Gig work 'exploded exponentially' during the pandemic, Flex Association CEO says

Flex Association CEO Kristin Sharp joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the work the gig lobby is doing on behalf of Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and other businesses and workers in the app-based economy

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. There is a new fight brewing between gig workers and app-based companies over their right to unionize. Labor unions are arguing companies like Uber and DoorDash are exploiting their workers by classifying them as contractors, but a new lobbying group backed by major firms, including Lyft and Instacart, are looking to counter that message with a $1 million ad campaign launched earlier this month.

All of this, of course, comes as the Biden administration pushes Congress to pass the Pro Act, which would make it easier for gig workers to unionize. Take a listen to what Labor Secretary Marty Walsh had to say a few weeks ago.

MARTY WALSH: Everyone should have the right to organize. And it's their call. And if workers decide to organize, then they should be recognized as a union. If workers decide not to organize in a free and fair election, then they don't have to be unionized.

AKIKO FUJITA: Let's bring in the CEO of the group behind this $1 million ad campaign, Flex Association. We've got Kristen Sharp joining us from Washington, DC. Kristen, it's great to talk to you today. We've seen the ads, and we've heard the message here, that these companies allow for more flexibility. Let's start by talking about how you're defining flexibility. And what's the message you're looking to counter with what we're hearing from the administration?

KRISTIN SHARP: Yeah, thanks so much for having me on the show today, Akiko. I'm pleased to be here. Flex represents the app-based economy. We represent rideshare and delivery platforms and all the people who count on them. This is an industry that didn't even exist 15 years ago and has expanded exponentially during the pandemic. Today, it represents $348 billion of contributions to the economy, with 52 million workers who are earning income on our platforms.

We're excited to have our folks have a seat at the table and excited about the possibility of app-based work. We think about flexible work as work where the person doing the work can decide when, where, and how they earn income. And we are excited that most of the drivers that are working with our platforms are choosing it because they want their work to work around their lives.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Well, Kristin, it's Brian Cheung here. I want to ask about having a seat at that table. What types of policy discussions does the group want to engage with? We know that, obviously, an Instacart is different than, say, an Uber, but what is that kind of the common thread is the use of gig workers on all of those platforms? So are there specific federal issues or state issues that you're trying to flag as part of this initiative?

KRISTIN SHARP: Yeah, that's a great question. We actually see the linking theme as contributions to the community across the board. We look at policies that range from transportation, safety, access, equity, sustainability even, and thinking about how we can reduce the footprint of the way that our people are getting around communities. Certainly, entrepreneurship and independent contracting work is one aspect, but our goal is to support the industry and support a seamless and convenient way to move people, goods, and things around our communities across the board.

AKIKO FUJITA: Kristin, you mentioned-- you look at flexibility as allowing workers to determine when, where, and how they earn income, but there's a counterargument to that from those who say, look, benefits also mean flexibility. If you have parental leave, for example, that would allow you to have a little more flexibility, medical benefits also included in that as well. Do you agree with that?

KRISTIN SHARP: Look, most of our drivers work an average of eight hours per week. It's a way for people to earn income and control their time as they're working around different kinds of constraints or motivations in their lives. We see over and over again that workers have decided to work with this industry because they're excited and pleased with the options and flexibility that independent work provides them.

There is no shortage of traditional jobs out there right now. If you go to any restaurant, hotel, or store in the country right now, there's a Help Wanted sign in the window. For people who want to work in a traditional way, those jobs are out there, but for people who are working in our industry and who have opted for personal control over their time, they're excited to be working in a new way. And we believe that we want to empower and support them so that they can continue doing that, continue having that flexibility.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Now Flex only just started recently. I believe it was just this month that you formed this coalition. I mean, tell us about how it all came together. Why now? I mean, some of these companies have been around the block for quite a while. What's so important about 2022 and this time for this coalition to be put together?

KRISTIN SHARP: Well, like I said, our industry has exploded exponentially over the course of the last two years. And during COVID, we did everything from ensure that kids who used to get free school lunches get access to food, to getting people to and from COVID shots, and everything in between. We're excited about the possibility of continuing to partner with communities and city leaders to solve the public policy problems that aren't getting solved in other ways. And we think it's important for our consumers, our communities, and our drivers to have a seat at the table, as those discussions unfold.

AKIKO FUJITA: Kristin, I wonder if we can broaden this out a bit to talk about the issue of regulation because ultimately, what we're talking about today falls under that umbrella. And tech companies have been far from united on that issue. You've got big tech companies like Google, as well as Meta/Facebook, who've been pushing back against any kind of antitrust action. And then you've got the smaller tech companies, who've been calling for additional regulation to increase competition. Where does Flex fall in that? Where do you guys stand?

KRISTIN SHARP: We see competition as competition in terms of providing new options for people. And we are interested in ensuring across the board that people and consumers-- workers and consumers have more and more options for how they work, how they have goods and services delivered, and how they operate within their communities. It is so important that we think about, as we're going forward, how digital tools can impact and participate in our communities as we have new options. And at Flex, we're really excited about the possibility of all of our companies making things more seamless, easier, and just having more options.

BRIAN CHEUNG: And then Kristin, lastly here, I want to ask about whether or not there are other trade organizations that you're engaging with because even just the news from "The Wall Street Journal" this morning that Uber might be putting taxis on their platform in a partnership that maybe people didn't expect, you don't have to comment specifically on that, but just broadly, speaking, it shows that the gig economy is not isolated, that they do tangentially operate with other industries as well. Are there other groups that Flex is talking to as well?

KRISTIN SHARP: So I think we're excited to engage with anybody who wants to have a conversation about ways to make our communities more connected, more expansive, and have more options available. We're in particular excited about having conversations with other organizations, types of driving and delivery, and are enthusiastic about having conversations with anybody that could contribute to our economy.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Kristin Sharp, CEO of Flex, thanks so much for stopping by. Have a great week.