Over the past few years, gig workers—individuals who provide services to customers of companies such as Uber, Door Dash and Instacart—have been making headlines as law makers, corporations and workers have tried to navigate the complexities that the gig economy has presented. In 2019, California’s state legislature passed a law, AB 5, effectively granting gig workers employee status. In 2020, however, Californian voters passed a proposition to limit the effect of AB 5, thereby demonstrating how complicated and rapidly changing the legal infrastructure surrounding gig work can be.
In October, Deepa Das Acevedo, Assistant Professor at The University of Alabama School of Law, published Beyond the Algorithm: Qualitative Insights for Gig Work Regulation with Cambridge University Press. As regulation debates continue, Das Acevedo’s volume demonstrates why government actors must go beyond mass surveys and data-scrubbing in order to truly understand the realities of gig work. Each chapter in Beyond the Algorithm uses vivid, concrete examples to show how one can better understand the similarities and differences between gig and conventional employment. As a whole, the volume helps lawyers and government officials who oversee gig work policies to respond to the needs of the workers and industry in a reasonable and humane way.
“It is important to realize that there are real people behind the regulations and policy debates—people who at the end of the day are just struggling to make a living,” said Das Acevedo. “They are not monolithic in terms of priorities and interests. [In fact], increasing numbers of empirical studies show that they have a more complicated understanding of what it means to be an employee—with no definitive explanation as to whether the overall workers desire to remain as individual contractors, with the freedoms that affords, or to become employees, with the security that provides.”
Das Acevedo’s edited volume brings together a collection of qualitative empirical research from academic scholars across law and social sciences disciplines, while also drawing on experiences of drivers, journalists, and worker’s advocates who were among the first groups to study gig work from the bottom up. In doing so, the collection is able to reveal the narrative and real-life experiences that define gig work and offer insights to the policy debates being fought out in courts, town halls, and even in Congress.