Nowhere has COVID-19’s tendency to accelerate the worst trends in our economic order been more clear than in the gig economy.
Before the pandemic, gig workers—already forced to demean themselves to make ends meet—were regularly denied reliable access to clean bathrooms at restaurants, Uber facilities, and airports. The problem has only gotten worse, and things so dire that a rather dystopian app has launched to find drivers places to relieve themselves.
The Whizz App pitches itself as a solution that “gives gig workers ‘pee’ace of mind with hassle-free access to restroom facilities.” The gist of it is simple: “travelers, gig economy workers, and soccer moms” can sign up to use the app, and partner restaurants let Whizz users use their bathrooms. According to the app’s website, in exchange Whizz offers “Free Advertisement for any Restaurant who allows Whizz essential partners to use their Restrooms During the Covid 19 crisis.” The app’s first partner is the WaBa Grill chain of restaurants, which has made bathrooms at 200 locations available to subscribers.
Whizz did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
On one hand, any bit of help is welcome for gig workers who are working long hours at sub-minimum rates to enrich investors that conspire to deny them basic worker protections and benefits. And yet, the reason why things have gotten so bad as to give rise to an app for completing a basic human function is not simply because of the exploitative companies at work here, but the political and regulatory authorities that have been slow to act.
For years, dozens of the nation’s largest airports—where ride-hail drivers sit all day waiting for trips and are forced to use unclean bathrooms that often don’t work—had seemingly no interest in paying for new restrooms, maintaining existing ones, or applying adequate pressure on ride-hail companies to force them to provide bathrooms for their drivers.
In fact, instead of paying for bathrooms, Uber left it up to airports to “what facilities to provide and how to maintain them.” Adding insult to injury, the company constructed an elaborate (and likely illegal) system to steal millions from ride-hail drivers at airports.
In New York City—one of the largest ride-hail markets in the world—gig workers have, for years, had woefully inadequate facilities and unreliable access to them. Before the pandemic, the city only provided 32 relief stands for over 100,000 drivers.
“On top of the physical challenges of working out of their cars daily, most drivers are working increasingly long hours, often far from home and at an unrelenting pace,” the Whizz team wrote in a press release. “Adding to their challenges, drivers are often denied access to restrooms leading to a growing indignity of having to find relief in parks, alleys, and even containers they carry around in their own vehicles.”
And yet, while the app attempts to solve a real problem, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that things are this bad because they were allowed to get this bad, inch by inch. Over the past ten years, gig companies have forced workers to fend for themselves, state officials have been slow to challenge this exploitation and often legitimized it, early media coverage was uncritical and helped embed corporate propaganda into the public imagination, and researchers were convinced to publish findings that happened to align with gig economy talking points.
Sure, the app might help a few workers in a few areas, but maybe an even better solution might be actually mandating restaurants and other facilities allow gig workers to use their bathrooms. Or, alternatively, building relief stands that are reliably accessible and clean for gig workers.
We can imagine a million incremental reforms that make things a little better for workers, but all of them assume, on some level, that the gig model is legitimate(a debatable point) and that it simply needs to be made more humane. Nor do piecemeal reforms answer the question of why it is that gig workers are not allowed to do something as simple as use a bathroom in the first place.
Source : Edward Ongweso Jr Link