Each Tuesday through Friday at noon, Brittany “Brimo” Morales goes to work, where a golden retriever named Ranger is waiting for her.
Morales makes about $1,000 a month walking dogs via the Wag app. Brimo, as she’s known by friends, also dog-sits on the smartphone-powered Rover app. She’s a participant in a gig economy that provides earnings for millions of people nationwide, and the numbers appear to be growing as more tech companies employ these increasingly common work arrangements.
“What I really like about it is we’re not just working for someone, but we have the freedom to pursue other things – whether you’re a musician, artist, or author,” Morales said. “We don’t have to be tied down to an office making someone else money.”
San Antonio residents have an increasing number of tech-enabled odd jobs from which to choose, whether it’s to supplement other income or provide flexible employment. Exact numbers are difficult to track, but the arrival of e-scooter companies Bird and Lime this spring brought another method of earning cash in the so-called gig economy. While scarce data exists about the impact these types of jobs have had on San Antonio, the need for supplemental income is a fact of life for many gig workers, and many worry about the long-term implications for labor rights.
The government refers to them as contingent workers: those “who do not expect their jobs to last or who report that their jobs are temporary,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Overwhelmingly, however, local gig workers told the Rivard Report the app-enabled, on-demand work provides them with the freedom and finances to pursue their dreams.
“The rise of the gig economy offers individuals opportunity to supplement traditional income and take more ownership of their work schedule,” said Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. “While SAEDF will continue to focus on building San Antonio’s target industries of technology, cybersecurity, bioscience, and manufacturing, the gig economy is another facet of San Antonio’s rapidly growing economy that offers residents additional means to live a good quality of life in San Antonio.”
For the past two years, the entirety of Khat Castigliata’s roughly $50,000 annual income has come from taking on contracts via Upwork, an online platform for freelancers and companies looking to pay them. Castigliata is a jack of all trades, or a “fixer” as she puts it on the site, but specializes in cleaning data in spreadsheets and customer-relationship management tools such as Salesforce.
At the peak of her activity, she pulled 70 hours a week in contracts but has since scaled back. Now in “slow mode,” she works about 45 weekly hours, earning enough to sustain herself and a 17-year-old daughter she has raised on her own. The flexibility of the work allowed her to complete her degree in radiology, and once she completes her medical board exams in the coming weeks, she has a job lined up at a local healthcare facility.
“[My daughter is] about to leave for college next year, so it was time for me to go into what I always wanted to do,” Castigliata said. “I wanted to do medical [work] this whole time – just never had time to do it.”
Similarly, Jorge Mata started shopping for and delivering groceries for Shipt in April as a way to earn money while he launches a digital marketing agency and blog.
“I saw it as an easy way to make money while I’m building my business,” Mata said. “It was hard to do it while I was tied to a desk at a regular day job.”
Shipt, a smartphone app- or web-powered tool, enables customers to order groceries at a local retailer such as H-E-B. Customers pay a membership fee of either $99 for an annual plan or $14 for a monthly plan.
Mata’s haul per shopping trip usually depends on the day of the week. On weekdays, the average shopping cart he fills for a customer has anywhere from $40 to $70 worth of goods. On weekends, it’s anywhere from $100 to $200 worth of groceries, Mata said.
For every delivery, Mata earns $5 plus 7.5 percent of the total order, and he keeps 100 percent of any tip. A $100 order would earn him at least $12.50.
“It’s really been up and down,” he said about his Shipt earnings. “Some weeks are busier than others. I’m not making quite as much as I was at my previous job, but it’s enough to pay the bills right now.”
Some local rideshare drivers have grown increasingly worried about how their pay is being determined.
A strike by a handful of Central Texas Uber drivers in August appeared to have scant impact. As contractors with little-to-no organizing ability outside of a few Facebook groups, ride–share drivers in San Antonio have expressed concern about the company’s shifting compensation model, but they possess no collective-bargaining power to negotiate better wages. In fact, one of the central figures in the strike movement declined to be quoted in an Aug. 3 article about the labor demonstration – lest Uber revoke his eligibility to drive for the company.
One local labor leader believes the eroding ability to unionize in the U.S. workforce has led to greater disparities in wealth.
“A strong middle class is what built this country,” said Tom Cummins, president of the San Antonio American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations council. “That came when we had strong labor unions. The tech economy and gig-working is a get-by economy. It’s not good for the country.”
But for a worker such as Morales, labor rights may not be as important – she sees her dog-walking enterprise as a bridge toward running a profitable business as she’s using her earnings to bootstrap her marketing company.
“Using the app services and being more of a contract worker is definitely kind of a thing of the future, and it’s given more people opportunities to pursue other things in life while still paying the bills,” Morales said. “Being tied up in an office doesn’t give you the freedom or time to pursue what you’re really passionate about.”