There are a growing number of opportunities to find work anytime, anywhere for just about anyone; however, that job may be more similar to what’s offered at companies like Uber and Lyft: you get it when you need it with no benefits because you are not full-time.
It’s especially relevant in Silicon Valley where start-ups can often inflate and then lose steam unexpectedly. Hiring part-time workers grants companies the flexibility of adding or subtracting workers as quickly as needed, but where does that leave the people looking for work and for security?
Christian Hoffert is trying to start an acupuncture clinic, but getting it up and running has been a struggle with plenty of time to fill.
“The problem is always that when u have a part-time job, you’re on a schedule,” said Hoffert. “Sometimes I have patients who need me in an emergency and if I can’t meet them then…I could lose a patient.”
To fill that down-time, Hoffert signed on for Wonolo, a company that stands for “work now locally.” The San Francisco-based start-up offers an app platform hooking up people to flexible, part-time work with companies in the area. Wonolo screens potential workers, checking everything from resumes to background check. Once it clears the person, he or she can begin browsing possible gigs.
“You go through the onboarding process. Once you clear that, you get notifications for jobs,” explained AJ Brustein, Wonolor’s co-founder. “You get notifications like job, pay, location, start time and what the job’s going to be. You just push accept. No interview, no resume, you do that job, push start, push complete, and get paid the next day.”
In the past year, 25,000 people have signed up for Wonolo in the Bay Area, alone. In the same way an Uber driver gets rated by passengers, Wonolo workers are rated by the people who hire them. Canceled jobs are similar to canceled rides – they can reflect poor performance in lower ratings.
“The best people bubble up and they get the best access to jobs,” Brustein added. “People that don’t perform get weeded out.”
Right now, most available jobs are entry-level positions for e-commerce companies, from data entry to customer service to packaging.
That’s what Kishan Madamala needed most. The founder of men’s online retailer, Maxton Men, said filling random job hours was a major and persistent struggle.
“You have seasonal demands, spikes. To get people on short notice, that’s the biggest thing. It’s really hard as an employer to find people that can come help out within a day’s notice.”
It’s a trend that seems especially true following the Great Recession. According to financial professionals’ publisher, Advisor Perspectives, full-time work for people 25 to 54 years old dropped noticeably after 2008 while the part-time work picked up. The question is will this lead to higher risks of worker exploitation?
The difference between a full-time and contract worker is considerable: entitlement to overtime, reiumbursement for work expenses, workers’ compensation for on-the-job injuries, and unemployment insurance.
“I think the two options are actually either we keep these jobs in the Bay Area and they exist in this form, or a lot of companies they go to Cincinnati or to Kentucky where the wage rate is a lot lower,” said Madamala.
For Brustein, it’s a matter of moving along with the trends in the economy.
“We definitely want to offer opportunities for earned benefits and those types of things for people working on Wonolo permanently or long term, so we’re working with different companies to offer things like that,” said Brustein, “I think the challenge now is with only black-or-white model of independent contractor versus the W2 – there’s no middle solution. Hopefully that will happen in the next few years.”
Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided Federal Express drivers using their own vehicle are full-time employees, not contractors, because they wear FedEx uniforms, FedEx-marked trucks, and have specific work hours.
It’s a question that has also hit hot startups like Uber and Lyft. Are drivers employees or independent contractors as both companies claim? Two judges ruled that a jury should make that decision.
John Sullivan, a San Francisco State University professor of management, said this is a decision that is also especially relevant to California and in a time with rapidly expanding growth of networks.
“Finding contingent workers was more difficult when most of the work required a physical presence, but now with the widespread possibility of ‘remote work,’ more jobs can be done from anywhere around the world,” said Sullivan.
He also estimates up to 20-percent of people in the Bay Area actually prefer contingent jobs over permanent ones for a variety of reasons, from starting their own company, to going to school, to taking care of their family.
Ultimately, Sullivan believes this is all heading in the right direction with a smaller chance of exploitation, crediting the growth of entrepreneurial startups and social media.
“The days where firms can exploit workers, temps or contractors locally or in other countries without that perceived exploitation being revealed are coming to an end,” Sullivan explained. “The Internet has also created a large number of firms that can ‘match’ an individual to “the best” permanent or temporary job. Using algorithms, they now make it much easier for individuals and firms to find their perfect match.”
For employers like Madamala, supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem is another big plus.
“I think we are creating a lot of entrepreneurs that can go and make their own living through Uber, Lyft – they couldn’t do that before.”
He adds the on-demand economy has helped. He spends less time finding workers and now makes more money, in fact doubling his sales over last year.
As for workers who are still trying to figure out what’s best for them, current Wonoler and acupuncturist Christian Hoffert has this advice.
“Be aware of the risk versus the reward. If something is going to pay you $10 an hour for eight hours but they want you to lift heavy objects, don’t do it. If we’re in the sharing economy, free market economy, if not one does them, the price will go up.”