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Is the Uber economy bad for workers?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

You don’t have to look very hard these days to find an app billing itself as, “The Uber of … A, B, or C”.  Case in point: Waffle House, the national chain of all-night eateries, has joined forces with Roadie, an app that connects drivers with people who want something shipped.  There are also apps to do your grocery shopping, wash your clothes, even clean out your garage. The thing that all these businesses have in common is they use smartphones to connect people who want a job done with those who need the work.  But, the economy is already awash with temp workers and this “Uberification” of the job force might actually do more harm than good.

Three years ago, AJ Brustein was a brand manager for Coca-Cola. At the time and he noticed one problem that Cokes merchandisers, the companies who keep Coke stocked on store shelves, constantly struggled with.  “They’d get a call from a store manager somewhere saying, ‘Hey, Coke Zero is out of stock you need to come back and restock it, or ‘Hey, you need to build this display today instead of tomorrow or Pepsi is going to build it.”  Brustein says these kinds of unplanned stops meant delays, and diverting staff from other jobs, which all added up lost sales and increased costs.  “Paying overtime, extra transportation costs, consumers are buying Pepsi instead of Coke,” says Brustein. So, he and his co-founder Yong Kim, pitched Coke on an idea for an app they call Wonolo, which stands for “Work. Now. Locally.”

The app allowed companies to post these extra, unexpected jobs on Wonolo, where they could find vetted temps to do the work.  Just like using TaskRabbit to find someone to clean your garage.  Wonolo has since spun off from Coke — but haven’t we always had temp workers in our economy? Has anything really changed? The answer is yes, and the reason is smartphones and GPS.  “The ability to create a marketplace really depends on being able to match buyers and sellers,” says Stewart Thornhill. Thornhill is the Executive Director, Zell-Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University Of Michigan Ross School Of Business.  Thanks to the smartphone most of us carry in our pocket, the ease of finding people ready to take on a little extra work has made it frighteningly easy for companies to offload jobs that would otherwise go to full-time staff.  (click on link to read full story) 

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