Digital Labor

Rebecca Smith


Rebecca Smith graduated in 1982 from the University of Washington School of Law and has worked, since that time, representing low-wage and immigrant workers and workers in the subcontracted economy on employment issues. She is the Deputy Director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP). She has written, testified, litigated and lectured extensively on immigrant workers’ employment rights, labor rights as human rights, and wage and hour and unemployment insurance law. She has also worked with allies to develop local, state and federal policies to protect and expand low-wage workers’ rights and enforcement of those rights.

Gig Employment
Business outsourcing is on the rise, through practices such as multi-layered contracting, use of staffing or temp firms, franchising, misclassifying employees as independent contractors, and other means. The label on a worker’s uniform and the brand on the outside of the establishment where the work occurs may not match the business name on the paycheck or the company that recruits and hires that same worker.

Lead companies that outsource distance themselves from the labor-intensive parts of their businesses and their responsibilities for those workers. While some of these outsourcing practices reflect more efficient ways of producing goods and services, others are the result of explicit employer strategies to evade labor laws and worker benefits. This restructuring of employment arrangements may well foreshadow a future of work different from the employer-employee paradigm around which many of our labor standards were constructed, where workers are employed by the “gig,” At the same time, it should not spell the end of living wage jobs or business responsibility for work and workers.

In this report, NELP describes the job structures and impacts on workers in selected outsourced sectors, outlines model policy responses, and proposes a new framework for expanding employer accountability for those in their business.