The SELC and the Gig Economy

Written by Ellie​ ​Lauderback
Fall 2017

I​ ​began​ ​my​ ​internship​ ​with​ ​the​ ​Sustainable​ ​Economies​ ​Law​ ​Center (SELC)​ ​simply​ ​wanting​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​more about​ ​food​ ​policy,​ ​without​ ​a​ ​specific​ ​project​ ​in​ ​mind.​ ​SELC​ ​is​ ​a​ ​small​ ​group​ ​of​ ​lawyers​ ​and​ ​activists​ ​who work​ ​to​ ​create​ ​a​ ​more​ ​equitable​ ​and​ ​just​ ​economy​ ​through​ ​the​ ​lenses​ ​of​ ​food,​ ​housing,​ ​energy,​ ​and​ ​labor,​ ​via policy​ ​advocacy,​ ​legal​ ​advice,​ ​research​ ​and​ ​education.​ ​What​ ​started​ ​out​ ​as​ ​me​ ​assisting​ ​my​ ​supervisor, Christina​ ​Oatfield,​ ​with​ ​an​ ​array​ ​of​ ​diverse,​ ​small​ ​tasks,​ ​later​ ​became​ ​a​ ​wholehearted​ ​investigation​ ​into homemade​ ​food​ ​policy​ ​in​ ​California​ ​and​ ​its​ ​future​ ​in​ ​the​ ​state.​ ​This​ ​project​ ​has​ ​not​ ​only​ ​allowed​ ​me​ ​to​ ​learn about​ ​the​ ​policy​ ​itself​ ​but​ ​has​ ​also​ ​forced​ ​me​ ​to​ ​consider​ ​the​ ​widespread​ ​consequences​ ​of​ ​the​ ​growing​ ​tech industry​ ​and​ ​gig​ ​economy,​ ​both​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​homemade​ ​food​ ​and​ ​other​ ​economies.

The Gig Economy

The​ ​Problem

The​ ​gig​ ​economy,​ ​also​ ​known​ ​as​ ​the​ ​sharing​ ​economy,​ ​is​ ​a​ ​labor​ ​market​ ​that​ ​relies​ ​on​ ​the employment​ ​of​ ​independent​ ​contractors​ ​or​ ​freelancers​ ​for​ ​short-term​ ​contracts​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​permanent​ ​formal employment.​ ​In​ ​recent​ ​times,​ ​we​ ​have​ ​seen​ ​the​ ​rise​ ​of​ ​the​ ​gig​ ​economy​ ​facilitated​ ​by​ ​the​ ​growth​ ​of​ ​the technology​ ​sector.​ ​Dependence​ ​on​ ​the​ ​gig​ ​economy​ ​is​ ​built​ ​into​ ​the​ ​business​ ​models​ ​of​ ​many​ ​well-known tech​ ​companies,​ ​including​ ​Uber,​ ​Lyft,​ ​AirBnb,​ ​PostMates,​ ​and​ ​GrubHub,​ ​as​ ​these​ ​companies​ ​solely​ ​employ contracted​ ​workers​ ​to​ ​supply​ ​their​ ​services​ ​(whether​ ​they​ ​be​ ​food​ ​delivery,​ ​transportation,​ ​or​ ​lodging),​ ​which are​ ​marketed​ ​and​ ​sold​ ​via​ ​online​ ​platforms.​ ​Reliance​ ​on​ ​gig​ ​economy​ ​labor​ ​has​ ​significantly​ ​impacted​ ​both the​ ​contracted​ ​workers​ ​themselves​ ​and​ ​the​ ​businesses​ ​partnered​ ​with​ ​these​ ​tech​ ​companies.

The​ ​issues​ ​of​ ​the​ ​gig​ ​economy​ ​are​ ​intertwined​ ​with​ ​issues​ ​in​ ​the​ ​food​ ​system,​ ​most​ ​recently​ ​in regards​ ​to​ ​homemade​ ​food​ ​policy​ ​in​ ​California.​ ​The​ ​California​ ​Homemade​ ​Food​ ​Act​ ​(AB1616)​ ​was​ ​passed​ ​in 2012​ ​in​ ​part​ ​due​ ​to​ ​the​ ​efforts​ ​of​ ​SELC​ ​and​ ​allows​ ​for​ ​“non​ ​potentially​ ​toxic”​ ​foods​ ​to​ ​be​ ​sold​ ​out​ ​of​ ​home kitchens​ ​without​ ​requirements​ ​for​ ​an​ ​industrial​ ​kitchen.​ ​This​ ​law​ ​marks​ ​great​ ​opportunities​ ​for​ ​small​ ​food producers​ ​to​ ​legally​ ​sell​ ​their​ ​products,​ ​contributing​ ​to​ ​the​ ​formal​ ​economy​ ​and​ ​adding​ ​to​ ​the​ ​financial security​ ​of​ ​home​ ​cooks.​ ​The​ ​current​ ​law​ ​only​ ​includes​ ​foods​ ​that​ ​are​ ​low​ ​risk​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​food​ ​safety,​ ​such​ ​as baked​ ​goods,​ ​preserves,​ ​candies,​ ​and​ ​many​ ​more,​ ​and​ ​now​ ​the​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​multiple​ ​stakeholders​ ​is​ ​to​ ​expand​ ​the law​ ​to​ ​hot​ ​meals​ ​as​ ​well.

On​ ​one​ ​hand,​ ​the​ ​expansion​ ​of​ ​this​ ​law​ ​could​ ​be​ ​an​ ​incredible​ ​victory​ ​for​ ​home​ ​cooks,​ ​giving​ ​them an​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​run​ ​legitimate​ ​food​ ​businesses​ ​selling​ ​a​ ​wide​ ​range​ ​of​ ​items.​ ​However,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​biggest proponents​ ​of​ ​the​ ​expansion​ ​of​ ​this​ ​law​ ​happens​ ​to​ ​be​ ​an​ ​online​ ​tech​ ​platform​ ​that​ ​is​ ​currently​ ​operating illegally,​ ​marketing​ ​home​ ​cooked​ ​meals​ ​for​ ​pickup​ ​at​ ​individual​ ​cooks’​ ​homes.​ ​While​ ​the​ ​current​ ​law​ ​has​ ​no provisions​ ​for​ ​tech​ ​platforms,​ ​the​ ​new​ ​bill​ ​backed​ ​by​ ​the​ ​tech​ ​platform​ ​is​ ​engineered​ ​with​ ​their​ ​platform​ ​in mind​ ​and​ ​makes​ ​provisions​ ​specific​ ​to​ ​their​ ​business​ ​model.​ ​In​ ​many​ ​ways​ ​tech​ ​platforms​ ​can​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​be purely​ ​beneficial​ ​to​ ​society,​ ​but​ ​in​ ​reality​ ​they​ ​have​ ​widespread​ ​ramifications​ ​on​ ​laborers,​ ​small​ ​produces, industry,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​food​ ​system.​ ​Throughout​ ​my​ ​internship,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to​ ​explore​ ​these​ ​ramifications​ ​in​ ​other sectors,​ ​specifically​ ​in​ ​ride-sharing​ ​and​ ​food​ ​delivery,​ ​and​ ​apply​ ​them​ ​to​ ​the​ ​homemade​ ​food​ ​economy.​ ​Below is​ ​an​ ​infographic​ ​demonstrating​ ​the​ ​range​ ​of​ ​effects​ ​the​ ​gig​ ​economy​ ​has​ ​had​ ​on​ ​various​ ​stakeholders.

In​ ​order​ ​to​ ​garner​ ​support​ ​for​ ​our​ ​position​ ​on​ ​homemade​ ​food,​ ​Christina​ ​and​ ​I​ ​have​ ​been developing​ ​a​ ​website​ ​as​ ​a​ ​source​ ​of​ ​information​ ​regarding​ ​California​ ​homemade​ ​food policy,​ ​and​ ​have​ ​reached​ ​out​ ​to​ ​food-related​ ​groups​ ​across​ ​the​ ​state.​ ​ ​Through​ ​these​ ​efforts,​ ​we​ ​hope​ ​to​ ​make legislators​ ​think​ ​critically​ ​about​ ​both​ ​the​ ​costs​ ​and​ ​benefits​ ​of​ ​tech​ ​involvement​ ​in​ ​the​ ​homemade​ ​food economy​ ​before​ ​making​ ​major​ ​policy​ ​decisions​ ​about​ ​homemade​ ​food.

My​ ​Experience

Researching​ ​and​ ​writing​ ​about​ ​the​ ​gig​ ​economy​ ​for​ ​Christina​ ​was​ ​both​ ​an​ ​incredibly​ ​eye-opening​ ​and challenging​ ​experience.​ ​How​ ​was​ ​I​ ​to​ ​explain​ ​these​ ​complex​ ​issues​ ​in​ ​a​ ​manner​ ​that​ ​would​ ​not​ ​only​ ​be understandable​ ​to​ ​other​ ​people,​ ​but​ ​also​ ​motivate​ ​them​ ​to​ ​look​ ​past​ ​the​ ​allures​ ​of​ ​the​ ​tech​ ​industry?​ ​Since​ ​I have​ ​been​ ​working​ ​on​ ​this​ ​project,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​discussed​ ​it​ ​with​ ​many​ ​people​ ​-​ ​friends,​ ​family,​ ​and​ ​classmates ​-​ many​ ​times​ ​encountering​ ​disinterest​ ​and​ ​disbelief,​ ​a​ ​challenge​ ​we​ ​have​ ​also​ ​faced​ ​in​ ​garnering​ ​support​ ​for​ ​our position​ ​within​ ​the​ ​food​ ​system.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​not​ ​known​ ​the​ ​extent​ ​of​ ​the​ ​effects​ ​of​ ​the​ ​gig​ ​economy​ ​before​ ​coming to​ ​SELC,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​now​ ​am​ ​wary​ ​of​ ​the​ ​role​ ​of​ ​technology​ ​in​ ​our​ ​society.​ ​How​ ​do​ ​we​ ​balance​ ​technology​ ​and remain​ ​connected​ ​to​ ​our​ ​humanity?​ ​Overall,​ ​this​ ​experience​ ​challenged​ ​me​ ​to​ ​write​ ​content​ ​that​ ​could effectively​ ​explain​ ​controversial​ ​material​ ​and​ ​convince​ ​people​ ​to​ ​think​ ​about​ ​it.​ ​My​ ​work​ ​on​ ​homemade​ ​food policy​ ​has​ ​made​ ​me​ ​more​ ​aware​ ​of​ ​the​ ​dynamics​ ​of​ ​our​ ​economy,​ ​allowing​ ​me​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​more​ ​educated consumer​ ​going​ ​forward.

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