Organizing Online Customer Service Workers in the Midst of a Pandemic – Jacobin magazine - Freelance Rack

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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Organizing Online Customer Service Workers in the Midst of a Pandemic – Jacobin magazine

For me, it’s such a central part, because it’s not to say that there weren’t gripes when we were contract employees. Anyone who has freelanced is familiar with the headache involved with quarterly filings. But it still felt like we weren’t legitimate. It felt like we were the strays who you toss a bone to over the yard fence, and they were saying, “Well, you can come into the yard, but we’re still not going to let you into the house.”

The big impetus of organizing that really led me to push for this and commit to it and fight for this for the last year was looking around me and seeing how many friends were drawing a livelihood from this constellation of part-time work and freelance gigs that cumulatively added up to fifty, sixty hours of work every week with no benefits, no health care, no paid sick leave, no job security, and absolutely no bandwidth left at the end of the day to plan for your future, and just taking stock of that cumulative exhaustion. There’s a constant white noise of wondering, “How long can I sustain this? What happens to me if I get sick? What happens if I have a loved one who has an emergency?”

And looking at a company like Everlane, which is publicly so transparent about every stage of their production process and really prides itself on how thoroughly they’ve done their research with their suppliers and their factories and every aspect of their supply chain, and wondering, “Are we the only part of their business model that’s not designed to be sustainable?”

Because this job was designed to be temporary. The high turnover rate of our job was a feature, not a bug. And it was heartbreaking to feel like our job was a sieve for talented, hardworking people, because you just saw people reach this breaking point, where they had to leave despite their commitment to the company for their values, despite their commitment to the team.

This is where I think you have to look at the greater schism in the economy and the way that gig work is so atomized. This isn’t forty, fifty years ago where you could take that entry level, lowest-rung-of-the-totem-pole job at a company like Everlane, put in your hard work, and expect to be moved up the ladder.

Because in today’s economy, you’re a contract worker, you’re a temp worker, you’re a part-time worker, and that’s the way that it stays. There was never any pipeline for us to progress within the company. The introduction of remote full-time positions [that the company recently introduced] was a direct result of the threat of our unionizing. And so that’s really what it was about for us, fighting for a sustainable future within the company.

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