In November 2016 Yes Magazine published a happy go lucky article about the gig economy and how we should all LOVE IT because it gives us SO MUCH FLEXIBILITY!
But what if we want safety as well as flexibility? What then?
Should you consult, or should you work full time?
What will make you happier?
Before you say, “Consulting” think twice.
Outside, I look like a success story. I have built a thriving online business. I get to work from home. I can do what I want most days. Inside, it’s a different story. I, like many people, was laid off in 2009. I looked for work for over 3 years. During that time, I started my own business. I am the gig economy, but not by choice at first. Now I create products and chase clients like other gig economy people. There’s no stability from month to month. I can’t even take a 2 week vacation without working.
Yes, we lost our jobs. Yes, our jobs are not coming back. But this does not mean that a gig job replaces those lost full-time jobs. It doesn’t mean everyone should work for themselves. We are not free, even if we have a “gig” or even several gigs. In this Open Democracy article Byung-Chul Han writes,
“Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise.
Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself.
Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themselves and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.
Any disciplinary power that expends effort to force human beings into a straitjacket of commandments and prohibitions proves inefficient. It is significantly more efficient to ensure that people subordinate themselves to domination on their own. ” Read more on this at Open Democracy.
The Gig economy means the loss of the middle class that unions fought so hard for.
Articles like the Gig Economy in Yes Magazine posit that we are now “Free” when we have lost our pensions, our healthcare, our security, our freedoms to not work or not to get fired for no reason. Being in the gig economy means working all the time, because when you don’t work, you don’t eat. When we don’t succeed in the gig economy, we blame ourselves, instead of blaming the system.
So am I going to give up my gig in favor of working a full time job?
Why not? Working full time in the nonprofit sector has shown me that my loyalty and hard work will be repaid with more hard work and a quick dumping if they feel like it.
At-will employment means no one is safe. According to my research about nonprofit unions, university or hospital unions don’t even guarantee a living wage or a workplace free of harassment. Wage theft, even in the nonprofit sector, is rampant, according to Interfaith Worker Justice. I know when I worked at Clackamas Women’s Services, I worked on holidays and my boss told me not to put my timecard in on those days, so she wouldn’t have to pay me overtime. I did what she said, because I didn’t want to be fired. Then I was fired anyway. That’s wage theft. My story isn’t isolated.
“Women saw minimum wage violations at significantly higher rates than men. Wage theft was three times higher for blacks than for whites, and highest of all for Latinos. Employees at smaller businesses were more at risk, as well as employees with less education — though wage theft happens often even to the college educated.”
Even if I went back to nonprofit work full time, I doubt I could make a wage commensurate with my experience. Over and over I see old white men at the top of the largest nonprofits, making WAY more money, and white women and people of color at the heads of small nonprofits, making WAY less money. According to the Forward salary survey of 2014, this is still happening. So why try to get ahead in the nonprofit world at all? The racism, sexism, classism and ableism seems to make it impossible to move up in this sector or make a difference in a meaningful way.
“We cannot say that we are fighting for a more just society with our causes when most of our workers do not make a living wage and do not have pensions or retirement benefits.” -Mazarine Treyz
Who cares for old nonprofit workers? Who cares for those who selflessly gave their lives for 30 years to a cause and who are now deemed too old to be of value anymore?
Who will pay for these higher salaries when everyone’s talking about overhead and bemoaning executive salaries at nonprofits?
I propose that instead of the tired old pie charts about our expenses, we create circles within circles, as shown here by the Nonprofit Assistance Fund.
BRIGHT SPOT: At least one organization is doing something about this. The Ontario Nonprofit Network is creating the Decent Work project, where they are working on helping nonprofit workers get a fair wage, and a pension, and all the other things that unions used to fight for. So, that’s good for Ontario. What’s happening in the US about this?
We’ve identified 7 elements of decent work as a starting point for a discussion of what decent work means in the nonprofit context:
If you’d like to read more about why we need a nonprofit worker revolution now, check out these articles:
How are you supposed to get ahead when the deck is stacked against you?