Under US labour laws, workers on platforms such as Mechanical Turk are classified as “independent contractors” — which means that they do not receive minimum wage guarantees or legal protection for collective bargaining.
Many of the so-called sharing economy companies that have grown in recent years, most notably transportation networks such as Uber and Lyft, use independent contractors for the bulk of their services. These workers are responsible for their own expenses: Turkers provide their own computers, Uber drivers use their own cars.
However, as this model has grown, it has also faced more challenges in court from workers who say they are misclassified and should legally be considered to be employees. In the biggest of these cases in the US, Uber agreed to a $100m settlement to compensate drivers in California and Massachusetts, although that settlement was later struck down by a judge.
In the case of Uber, plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that the high level of control that Uber exerts over drivers through its app shows that the drivers are employees. Uber says its drivers prefer to have the flexible hours that come with being an independent contractor. The two sides have met in the middle by forming drivers’ “guilds” in some jurisdictions, which represent drivers’ interests but do not have the legal status of unions.
For Mechanical Turk, the employee-versus-contractor debate is different, because the platform plays almost no role in determining what tasks can be requested and performed. As agents that are free to take on the tasks they choose, the legal arguments that apply to Uber and Lyft drivers are less pertinent to Turkers.
Turkers can — and do — lobby for improved working conditions, such as direct payments for Turkers overseas, or better communication with those requesting the tasks. But unless US labour laws change, their voice will be harder to hear.”
I would argue that the platform does play a role-it decides who can be Requesters and who can not. And that is where more fair treatment for workers can begin.