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Sen. Mark Warner Wants To Know How Many Gig Workers There Are

He says it will cost the federal government around $1.57 million to find out.

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Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who's been making regulation of the gig economy something of a pet issue, asked Congress for some assistance on Monday. Ten years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a study on workers who aren't full employees called the Contingent Worker and Alternative Work Arrangement Supplement (CWS) to the Current Population Survey. Today, Warner asked for the funds to do it again.

Warner has long argued that the best way to determine what regulations make the most sense for gig economy companies like Instacart and Uber is to first understand how many people are using them to make a living. "I've seen [estimates] range from 3 million to 53 million," Warner told BuzzFeed News in September. The survey, for which Warner is asking $1.57 million to be earmarked, would hopefully produce a more accurate, reliable figure.

The rise of on-demand platforms has increased the number of people working multiple jobs as independent contractors in the U.S., part of a larger trend of disaggregated work that is changing the relationship between employee and employer. While the extent of that shift is unclear, its impact on the lives of American workers is potentially vast. Regulators worldwide are trying to determine how best to regulate the nascent on-demand industry, ensuring that workers are legally cared for without stymying economic growth.

In addition to regulation, many on-demand companies are currently grappling with litigation. The issue of whether workers paid for performing logistical tasks via digital platforms should be classified as employees or contractors will be debated by a jury in June, when a class-action suit brought against Uber by some of its drivers goes to trial. Last week, a coalition of startups, their funders, policymakers, and others signed an open letter calling for portable benefits for all American workers. Warner, who was not asked to sign the letter, later made a statement supporting it.

Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Caroline O'Donovan at caroline.odonovan@buzzfeed.com.

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