Can the Gig Economy Save Itself?

Startups set out to change the world. Still, the world stubbornly refuses to change.

Up & Go might have the impact previous start-ups could only hope for. Launched on May 9, Up & Go is a cooperative platform connecting New York City residents with worker-owned home cleaning companies. Merging the convenience of digital platforms with a pro-worker model, Up & Go hopes to take on leading cleaning services gig platforms like Handy and TaskRabbit.

Like Handy, Up & Go connects customers to home cleaning services through a digital marketplace. But unlike Handy or TaskRabbit, Up & Go only offers businesses owned by workers.

Backed by Barclays Citizenship and the Robin Hood Foundation, Up & Go aims to use technology to expand the reach of cleaning cooperatives.

“We want to take something that’s already working in low-income communities—cooperative cleaning business—and bring them online,” says Mark Thain, the Director of Social Innovation at Barclays.

Robin Hood Foundation Managing Director Steve Lee says they’re trying to reach the people who benefit from the gig economy the least. Gig platforms matching service workers with customers have made finding a ride, a handyman or a house cleaner easy. But while those platforms enrich investors and offer customers convenience, the gig workers often see low pay and little job security.

Three cooperative cleaning companies own the Up & Go technology. On Up & Go, cooperatives keep 95 percent of the profits, while 5 percent goes towards running the platform. On apps like Handy and TaskRabbit, about 50 percent of profits go to the platform. Worker/Owners on Up & Go typically make between $22.25 an hour, much more than contractors on Handy or TaskRabbit. Because the workers on Up & Go are also owners, the service tends to be far better than traditional gig platforms, where quality is notoriously spotty.

Working with the Center of Family Life in Sunset Park, New York City worker cooperatives and students from the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, Barclays and Robin Hood Foundation launched a massive market study. They found that apps like Handy and TaskRabbit had advantages that the co-ops did not: an online presence, credit card payments and easy scheduling tools.

But convenience isn’t everything. Consumers also want quality service.

That’s where cooperatives have an advantage. Because the cleaning companies are worker-owned, service providers have more investment in their assignments than a contractor has in a gig. The coalition recruited three New York-based cleaning cooperatives to the Up & Go project: Brightly Cleaning, Cooperative Cleaners of NY and Ecomundo.

From there, the Up & Go project took off. Not only did the platform help the cooperatives recruit new business, but it also offered a channel for them to share knowledge. Mariana Ortega, the General Manager of Cooperative Cleaners of NY, now regularly trades ideas and referrals with her peers at other co-ops:

“The monthly meetings have been good for me personally,” she observed, “I feel there is a real sense of community and purpose, here. And it doesn’t just stop at home cleaning services. Sometimes you go into a home and find an elderly person who could also use quality elder care services. Now, we can refer that person to cooperative elder care companies in our network.”

The Up & Go coalition hopes to add additional cooperative services like elder care to its platform as well as expand into other regions. But the dream is to influence policy. Up & Go hopes to serve as a model of fairness for gig workers and influence benefits systems, childcare and parental leave and address income disparity and poverty.

For now, Up & Go is starting small. Since workers can choose when and where they will work, they have more freedom to mold their schedule to family and other obligations. Fair pay lifts up low-income communities – and as business owners, there’s potential for growth.

Working together is a central tenet of the cooperative model and Up & Go is applying that idea to all aspects of their operations.

“Unity makes us all stronger,” Mariana Ortega says.

Courtesy Up & Go