Silicon Valley has created a new breed of American worker: neither employee nor contractor, indispensable to the company but free to work as much or as little as they please — with no real boss.
Together, companies including Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit, GrubHub make up the so-called sharing economy, a burgeoning marketplace of digital platforms connecting freelance providers with customers wanting a ride, a place to stay, random errands or grocery delivery.
As the companies proliferate, government regulators are scrambling to rein them in. City and state officials are pushing to protect worker rights while start-ups — insistent that they are merely providing the technology for a network of independent workers — want to be left alone.
The solution, labor and tech watchers say, may have to be a compromise: A new class of workers, protected by laws that take into account the emerging business model. Some advocate a new category of worker — the "dependent contractor," technically self-employed but reliant on income funneled through a third party. Germany and Canada have special protections in place for such laborers.
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