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Move Over Uber: How The Internet Helps Domestic Workers Find Jobs



We have talked lots about Uber drivers and their work status. Our next guest says that is only part of the story of how apps are changing the gig economy.

JULIA TICONA: What we know or what we knew about the gig economy and technology's influence in it has really been a men's story up until now. And so what we wanted to do is to really focus on women's experiences.

KELLY: For researcher Julia Ticona, that meant surveying nannies and housekeepers and other domestic workers, jobs traditionally dominated by women who are increasingly turning to apps to find work, apps like care.com, TaskRabbit, Handy. I asked Ticona why she used pseudonyms for the workers profiled in her new report.

TICONA: The decision to allow people to remain anonymous is a pretty standard one in qualitative research reports like this one. But it was especially important for us with this research because workers put so much information about themselves online. And so we wanted to be sensitive to the ways that workers may want to control the way that their experiences are portrayed in this report.

KELLY: Another thing I want to ask about is what I gather is just the constant fear of deactivation, that if you have a less-than-fantastic experience with one employer and they complain about you, the site can take you offline while they investigate, and then you lose all the potential jobs that might be out there.

TICONA: This depends on the platform. But some platforms will just, as you said, straight up deactivate you. We actually had an interviewee who had a really simple miscommunication with one of her clients about how to return a key. And she forgot to put it in the designated place. The client reported that key as stolen or missing, and she was deactivated from the app, which then made it so she couldn't actually communicate with the client to return her key. And it took her two months to reactivate her account in order to keep getting work in that way.

For the nannies, however, it's something a little bit different. The ways that these platforms structure workers' reputations is still really important for the care workers on a site like care.com. The reviews of workers by clients only go one way. Clients can really only rate workers. Workers cannot rate clients. And what we found was that a bad rating on something like care.com has huge effects on somebody's ability to get a job.

If you're a successful care worker, maybe you work for a few families relatively regularly. You don't have 120 reviews to sort of average out all of those different ratings. There's a hundred different ways that someone might give you a one-star review online. That - those have really huge consequences for these workers.

KELLY: And I can imagine as a parent who's hired a lot of babysitters and nannies, one bad review is all it takes to give you pause.

TICONA: Exactly.

KELLY: There are also - beyond issues to your reputation or issues about being blocked from a site so you can't find work going forward, there are also real safety issues either in terms of going into a home that belongs to somebody else and the risks that come with that or just - I don't know - if you're trying to clean a house, you can slip and fall. We asked some of these online marketplaces to comment on worker safety.

Care.com told us they have a dedicated safety team. TaskRabbit told us that they tell people, leave any situation that is not safe, and they also pointed out they have this live chat feature in the app. So if somebody feels in danger for whatever reason, they can reach out and communicate. What did you find the problem to be? Is it that workers aren't seeking help that they could be getting from these apps, or that the companies are not doing enough to protect people finding work through these platforms?

TICONA: I think it's a little bit of both. One of the big problems that we saw with folks getting work through these apps was that these companies sell themselves as easy onboarding. All it takes is a smartphone. You know, if you have a mop and a vacuum or if you have experience caring for children, you throw up a profile, you can get work relatively quickly and easily. Unfortunately, what that means for workers is that a lot of times they're pretty unfamiliar with all the ins and outs working through an app like this.

All they know is that their ratings and their ability to get future work is incredibly dependent on this client right now and how this client rates them. What if I tell this person that I feel uncomfortable and then they give me a one-star rating?

KELLY: Yeah.

TICONA: Will the app actually protect me in that case or not?

KELLY: Thanks very much.

TICONA: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the time to talk about this stuff.

KELLY: That's Julia Ticona. She's one of the authors of "Beyond Disruption: How Tech Shapes Labor Across Domestic Work And Ride Hailing," a new report put out by the research institute Data & Society.

(SOUNDBITE OF GARRY HUGHES' "TRANCE 7") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.