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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-58
Journal / PublicationEmployee Rights and Employment Policy Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


The challenge of determining the employment status of digital platform workers reflects, in part, the law's difficulty in apprehending interactive service work. It also results from a failure to recognize the exacting coordination requirements of producing on-demand services. Commentators frequently assert that digital platforms, like the on-demand ride companies Uber and Lyft, "match" sellers and buyers through technology. Rather than distinguish platform production from non-platform production, however, this rhetoric draws on differences between industrial manufacturing and service production that involves a worker-customer interaction. In interactive service provision, consumption and production overlap temporally, the customer participates in production and the worker in exchange, and the interaction is often one-on-one. All companies match buyers and sellers, but these differences render it more difficult to identify whether a service seller is the worker interacting with the customer, or, instead, a company directing the worker's efforts. Through examples from cases involving platform and non-platform service providers, including strip clubs and FedEx, the article shows how the different relationship among production, consumption, and exchange between interactive service work and industrial manufacturing invites or authorizes reinterpretations of work relationships. These differences create a particularly misleading picture in disputes involving Uber and Lyft drivers. Uber and Lyft have centralized the provision of services similar to those provided by non-platform enterprises through less centralized means (taxi rides). However, the customer interaction tends to obscure that the service – e.g., a single Uber ride – is not the product of an individual driver, but rather the output of many drivers cooperating under Uber's direction. Effacing the cooperative nature of production makes the individual driver appear more autonomous and has other consequences in the analysis of the driver's employment rights.

Research Area(s)

  • labor and employment law, Sociology of work, economic sociology