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Worker-owned apps are becoming more common, and changing the way the gig economy operates

Apps aim to put more money back in worker’s pockets
Worker-owned apps are changing the way the gig economy operates
Posted at 11:23 AM, Jul 20, 2022

Whether you're requesting a ride or ordering a meal to be delivered, these are two tasks that have changed, thanks to the gig economy, the creation of apps, and the companies behind them. Some in the industry want to change how this system operates.

“Everybody is using apps to do business, to get jobs,” Minsun Ji, the global partnership director at The Drivers Cooperative, said.

The Drivers Cooperative is a worker-owned platform cooperative for ride-share workers founded in 2021.

“Our cooperative aims to provide much better conditions and also allow workers to participate in the process of running the business,” Ji said.

It’s the same idea behind Nosh delivery, a restaurant delivery service owned by local independent restaurants.

“The idea of having some control of our destiny, of what has become a major part of our business, was a real meaningful idea,” Brian Seifried with Nosh Delivery said.

“The economy is shifting to a platform economy. Everyone is a gig worker,” Ji said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said there are 57 million gig workers in the U.S. economy, about 36% of all U.S. workers.

“We are actually imagining what could be possible for the workers so that they are in much better conditions in this sort of app-based economy,” Ji said.

Ji said in the instance of The Drivers Cooperative, the drivers make more money than traditional corporate-owned ride-share apps. Their board is made up of 18 drivers that make the decisions.

“What's happened is, to a large degree, things that were centralized, has now become very decentralized. And as we move along it becomes more and more so,” Steve Beaty, professor of computer science at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, said.

Beaty said just as apps like Airbnb and Uber disrupted the vacation rental and taxi industries, we are now seeing the next iteration of that.

“You get to choose a lot of different aspects of how you're making money,” he said.

“I think a concern is going to be, well when things go badly, when things go poorly, you don't have anybody to turn to,” Beaty said.

For example, what happens when you have a bad experience with a driver or get in a crash?

“Work ownership and employee ownership are very powerful ways to change the game,” Hilary Abell, co-founder of Project Equity, said. Abell works closely in this space and sees how this shift puts the power back in the hands of workers.

“Being able to compare how companies do when they are investor-owned and when they are employee-owned is going to be a very important experiment,” she said.

Currently, The Drivers Cooperative is only in New York City and Nosh delivery operates in Colorado. But many of these worker-owned apps are looking to expand as technology, funding, and interest grows.

“This is the next step in this evolution away from centralization,” Beaty said.