By Sam Hall
Last year, the State of California passed AB5, contentious legislation regarding employee classification, in an effort to address rising labor market issues associated with the “gig economy”. The legislation, largely seen as a benefit to workers and unions, sparked a large debate and will see legal challenges from a group of tech companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. While AB5 seeks to address a particular problem, it addresses a relatively small number of underemployed workers.
A much larger number of people work involuntarily part-time for economic and care-giving reasons. There’s a shortage of data about this trend but, if you count the shadow economy, irregular scheduled W-2 employees and those working through platforms like Uber, DoorDash or Postmates, it’s somewhere around 35 percent of adults. Many of their employers leverage new technology to adopt human resources strategies that focus on hiring a large number of part-time employees whose schedules are modified on short notice to reflect momentary customer demand. Often these individuals have trouble advancing their careers or obtaining enough hours and the daily timing of their shift can be unpredictable.
The Economic Policy Institute analyzed this trend and identified several consequences of irregular work, including constraints on consumer spending and considerable work-life stress. The adverse impacts of irregular work have prompted “Fair Scheduling ” legislation to address worst practices, including a “right to request” flexible work schedules in Vermont and San Francisco, where a Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights law requires employers to provide more advance notice in scheduling. Still, these efforts merely address the peripheral impacts and fail to address the central issue.
There is another approach that is worth trying, one that seeks to benefit all parties involved. Pacific Gateway, the public workforce board for Long Beach, has taken a national lead in developing a technology solution that addresses the inherent challenges of the irregular workforce.
Pacific Gateway is developing a virtual marketplace for buying and selling flexible labor. Recognized by the US Conference of Mayors as the nation’s best economic development initiative, our online platform is built around protections, progression, control and stability plus alignment and quality for local businesses. It’s a public resource that is flexible enough to fit any organizational structure and is designed to benefit both employers and workers.
We’re developing closed systems for large public and private sector employers, as well as a Flexi-Pool of labor that will be open to the public. Using a phone app, individuals will be able to “sell” their available hours to any number of participating companies that are seeking workers with their skill set, whether it be in hospitality, health care, event staffing, or other service-based industries. It will truly revolutionize the way people obtain flexible work.
I am proud to have been a member of two different unions during two significant chapters of my career, with AFSCME in the State Senate, and later with the Machinists in the City of Long Beach Harbor Department. The stability I enjoyed in these positions is unparalleled to any other position. Now as the
Director of this exciting program at Pacific Gateway, I’m working to help countless others find stability in their work-life and attain full employment. A more equitable market for hourly labor under local control doesn’t solve all the problems for these hard-pressed individuals, but it addresses the central issues of our rapidly growing irregular workforce and gives them a public resource for gaining autonomy of their schedule, progressing in their careers, and reaching full employment.
Our team is engaging a wide range of stakeholders to manifest our market, including businesses, labor unions and the public. Don’t make the assumption that AB5 will solve the problems of people currently working unpredictable hours. There is a bigger vision taking shape, and Long Beach is leading the way for our nation. Visit our website at www.CalFlexi.org and contact me about your interest in supporting workers in the 21st century.
Sam Hall is the Director of economic innovation at Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Network, a non-profit serving the city Long Beach, Signal Hill, and the Los Angeles Harbor communities.