UCLA Labor Center

Worker Ownership, COVID-19, and the Future of the Gig Economy


2020 / Lucero Herrera, Brian Justie, Tia Koonse, and Saba Waheed

A UCLA study published today, Worker Ownership, COVID-19, and the Future of the Gig Economy, examined the current conditions of gig work in California in the wake of the pandemic. The report also evaluated a California legislative proposal called the Cooperative Economy Act (CEA) that would introduce worker ownership into the gig economy, fundamentally restructuring the relationship between workers and platforms like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart.

Based on 302 worker surveys, the study presented case studies of worker ownership across industries. Researchers hope this study provides timely data and information at a critical moment for the future of the gig economy in California.

Among other findings, the study finds:

  • 80% of gig workers said their pay was insufficient to meet their household expenses. 
  • Half of gig workers had to stop working because of COVID-19 and 70% of those who kept working said their hours were reduced during the pandemic.
  • Three-quarters of gig workers said their companies were doing little to nothing to protect them from COVID-19. 
  • Only 5% of gig workers received some type of additional hazard pay and nearly half received no PPE from their companies.

Report authors outline the following recommendations for the CEA or any worker-owned models considered for the gig economy:

  1. Provide gig workers with greater income stability and predictability.
  2. Address customer relations issues and lack of recourse to remedy problems.
  3. Center gig worker voices in the building of its institutions.
  4. Develop flexible and democratic organizations that take worker needs into account.

Report authors outline the following recommendations for the state:

  1. Invest in worker-led cooperative models.
  2. Enforce employment classification laws.

This report was a collaboration between the UCLA Labor Center, a unit of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and SEIU United Healthcare Workers West.