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An employee of the food delivery service Gorillas cycles through the streets of Berlin.

Wolfgang Kumm/DPA

What We're Watching: Gorillas in the gig economy & work struggles for the "sandwich generation"

Gorilla unicorn to gig goat: a cautionary tale. Last year, a new Berlin-based food delivery company called Gorillas was going bananas. With its minimal branding, pro-biker vibes, and good service, the company became the first German tech “unicorn,” meaning it raised enough capital to be valued at more than a $1 billion dollars. But then the wheels came off as its gig workers, angry about late payments and poor working conditions, tried to organize in protest, and hundreds were fired. The company continues to function, but it recently set up its holding company in the Netherlands. The tale of Gorillas is both an inspiring and cautionary one. Over the past 10 years, gig work, facilitated by new technology platforms — think Uber, Seamless, Fiver, etc — has grown rapidly. Close to 30 million Europeans secure work through digital platforms, and the EU says that could rise to 43 million by 2025. In the US, one in 10 American adults relied primarily on “on demand” work as of 2020. This has vastly expanded opportunities for employment and broadened companies’ ability to source talent and skills on demand. But that flexibility comes at a cost for employees, who lack the workplace protections and benefits normally associated with full- or part-time work. Policymakers are still trying to balance the pros of flexibility with the cons of “precarity.” The EU is leading the legislative charge on this, with a sweeping set of reforms that would force gig platforms to classify their workers as employees and give them more bargaining rights. Supporters say it will boost the gig economy to a fairer footing, while critics worry it will make them less efficient and more expensive.

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