Hollywood Writers and the Gig Economy
University of Chicago Legal Forum, 2017, Forthcoming
33 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2016 Last revised: 6 Apr 2017
Date Written: October 24, 2016
The notion that large numbers of workers are independent contractors not entitled to unionize or to the protections of employment law is a product of twentieth-century legal categories that are a poor fit for twenty-first century companies and labor markets. But it is an error to assume that the free market cultural ethos of worker entrepreneurialism in the gig economy is at odds with the basic framework and assumptions of labor and employment law. It is both feasible and normatively desirable to extend to gig economy workers the protections of labor and employment law and, therefore, definitions of covered employees in these statutes should be read very broadly and exclusions for independent contractors should be narrow and cover only those workers who are really running their own business and working for multiple separate clients simultaneously. The experience of Hollywood writers described in this Article, which draws on legal history and in-depth interviews with thirty working TV writers today, shows that current law can easily accommodate bargaining by gig economy workers. Entrepreneurial, short-term workers, including many who might in other circumstances be deemed independent contractors or supervisors, have bargained collectively for 80 years to the significant benefit of themselves and the industry in which they work.
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