Job safety is a major concern for gig workers

In a major new report on the state of gig work, 16% of U.S. adults tell Pew Research that they’ve earned money through an online gig platform in the past year. Among those, one in three say it’s become their primary job, and nearly 60% add that the income they’ve made doing these jobs has been key “for meeting their basic needs.”

The findings show that the common perception of gig work as a side hustle is no longer accurate for many workers who have turned to ferrying people and things around as a way to make their living. Given the current circumstances—that we’re still in a pandemic in which people rely on delivery for everything from dinner to pet supplies and flowers—those numbers may not be that surprising.

But the answers Pew got to a second set of questions paint a context that’s, at minimum, troubling. It essentially comes down to how safe and well-treated this group of workers feels while doing their jobs. Overall, 37% of gig workers tell Pew that they’ve been treated rudely at least “sometimes” by customers, and 13% say that this happens “often.” Another 35%, meanwhile, say they’ve felt unsafe on the job, and one in five claim they’ve experienced unwanted sexual advances. Women and men say it’s true in almost equal proportion.

However, Pew notes these workplace problems affect certain demographic groups more than others. For instance, nonwhite workers are more likely to cite these negative encounters on the job. They claim to have experienced more customer mistreatment (41% versus 33%), felt more unsafe (41% versus 28%), and faced a greater number of unwanted sexual advances (24% versus 13%). The disparity is equally bad for younger workers—workers under the age of 30 are also more likely to say they’ve been mistreated (45% versus 33%), felt unsafe (42% versus 31%), or experienced unwanted sexual advances (25% versus 15%).

But in connected news, a shift is slowly occurring. DoorDash just announced it will hire its first full-time workers through a subsidiary called DashCorps. They’ll technically be based out of a sort of warehouse and be responsible for tasks beyond delivery, but they’ll also receive $15 an hour plus tips, in addition to benefits “that traditionally come with employment.” Instacart is reportedly eyeing a similar move. And last Thursday, the European Union proposed rules that would extend a minimum wage and legal protections to some 4 million drivers and couriers on the continent, giving it some of the world’s strictest rules for the gig economy.