Sunday, August 2, 2015

1099 Plantation Economy

Read this and if you are reading it like me, you see this as a pretty pathetic and sadly typical case of privileged MBA's wanting to get rich by being overseers in a plantation economy.
The core belief of its evangelists is that you can build empires without actually owning much of anything and without actually employing the people who deliver your services. (The moniker 1099 nods to the tax forms the IRS requires of most independent contractors.) In the 1099 economy, the company’s role is to facilitate two sides of a marketplace, linking people who have time and skills to people who need their help.
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Oh really? So they are the Craig in Craig's List and the cleaners get to determine job terms and pay? Seems not. They are more like pimps, who discipline their employees contractors by beating them up.
  They face harsh penalties for missed jobs. They must maintain exceptionally high ratings to earn the most competitive wages and to keep getting gigs. And as contractors, not employees, they enjoy few if any traditional workplace protections.
Three former cleaners have now filed two separate suits alleging that Handy classifies them as contractors but oversees them like employees—and demanding that the company compensate them for their unpaid time and expenses.
What about the overseers? What is it like to work in the big house as a staffer?

Former Handy employees describe an office that, early on in the company’s existence, tolerated joking vulgarities like a “Wheel of Fellatio” (a makeshift Wheel of Fortune with sex acts instead of dollar amounts) and team members who frequently referred to female employees as sluts.
“Just like, ‘Oh, you’re a slut,’ ” says one of Handy’s early customer-experience employees. “I don’t even know why that happened.”
In the summer of 2013, a whiteboard wall in the company’s office at 350 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan would often display crude and offensive language.
One week, a missive on the whiteboard managed to fit slurs toward women, black people, and gay people into just five words. When one of Handy’s neighbors dropped by to ask that it be taken down, someone used the whiteboard to taunt that company.
How about the actual workers contractors?
 According to one of the employees who worked in operations, Handy’s internal metrics showed that within 60 to 90 days, between 20 and 40 percent of new cleaners would become inactive on the service. (Handy prefers the inverse framing, noting that the majority of pros are still active after three months.)
To most of the former customer-experience and operations employees I spoke with, that high turnover was hardly surprising.
At various stretches in the company’s existence, contractors frequently encountered problems receiving payments, former customer-experience employees say. Lots of cleaners also didn’t understand that, because they were independent contractors, there was no withholding on their earnings, and they needed to set aside money to pay taxes.
But the most glaring payment complaints involved Handy’s pay-docking policies.
Cleaners would have money withheld from future paychecks if they showed up late to a job, canceled on short notice, or missed an appointment entirely. These financial penalties are outlined in the “Service Professional Agreement” that all Handy service providers are required to sign.
“Cancellation by Service Professional may result in a fee being charged to Service Professional as described further in Schedule 3, which may be modified from time to time by Handy,” the terms read. So may “Service Professional’s failure to complete a Job in accordance with Service Requester’s specifications.” Cleaners who receive poor reviews from customers also earn less per hour and risk removal from Handy’s service—a fact largely invisible to users of the service.
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 Handy cleaners are paid one of four hourly rates between $15 and $22 based on how highly rated they are and how many jobs they’ve worked in the past 28 days. The average cleaner makes around $17 an hour, Handy says.
Per the company policy viewable to pros on the Handy app, which a former employee provided Slate, Handy withholds $15 from the pay of cleaners who arrive late to a job by more than 30 minutes, as well as from those who cancel a booking less than 36 hours before the start time. Cleaners who don’t show up at all are assessed a $35 penalty (plus the cost of the job, if the payment has already processed).
Most severe is the fine for cleaners who cancel jobs within two hours, who incur a withholding fee “equal to what you would have been paid if you completed the job.” In other words, pull out of a $60 cleaning job at the last minute, and you don’t just lose the $60 earning opportunity—you’re actually charged $60.
Handy says these policies mirror how it charges customers who cancel bookings.
“It’s a dual-sided agreement where we want to deliver the best experience to customers and pros,” Hanrahan says. “If the customer cancels a booking within two hours, we actually pass the entire fee onto the pro, so the pro gets paid the entire amount irrespective of what happened.” Fees assessed to cleaners are typically used to give customers credits for complimentary services.
Still, the policies troubled many members of the customer-experience team.
“Obviously if they called in and were like someone died, ‘my car broke down,’ real reasons, we would reverse it,” one former employee says. “But I would always worry about people who weren’t going to call in because they were worried about losing their jobs,” she says, noting that Handy’s cleaners in New York are predominantly lower-income black and Latino women.
“It was a really unfair system, and I felt so fucking guilty all the time, because I knew that the system was broken and that I couldn’t do anything about it.”
The cleaners I spoke with are torn between warm feelings for a platform that affords them flexibility and relatively good earnings and a frustration that Handy treats them like disposable contractors despite managing them quite closely.
When I tried Handy earlier this month, it went well.
The woman who cleaned my apartment was prompt, friendly, and polite. Shortly after arriving she changed into a baggy Handy shirt with a slight shrug, then set to work scraping the grime from my bathroom. She said she’d worked in cleaning for a long time and that using Handy made it easier for her to find jobs. I heard similar things from Sewanda Williams, a cleaner who has worked for Handy in San Francisco for a little more than a year and likes that she can schedule cleanings in the evening, around her 9-to-5 job.[my bolding]
But Williams’ experience has not been without its frustrations.
She has been irked when Handy has made small changes to its payment rules “without actually contacting you or giving you warning.” Another woman I spoke with, who has cleaned for Handy in New York for almost three years and requested anonymity since she still works on the platform, complains that Handy tells customers that they are “not expected” to leave tips.
She describes recently not receiving payment for a job in a timely fashion because of identity verification issues, but says that rather than help her over the phone, Handy would only communicate with her via email.
“I think it’s really unprofessional,” she says.
But of course, she's only a cleaning contractor who creates the wealth flowing to the MBA's in the big house, so she's not entitled to that assessment.


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