Beware of the Bait & Switch in the Gig Economy

Beware of the Bait & Switch in the Gig Economy

By Don Hall

With the full knowledge that freelance work is feast or famine, dealing with the famine times is key. That means random gigs that pay but don't take up a lot of bandwidth. Substitute teaching, extra work on local television shows, dog walking, etc. All simple ways to make a few bucks to sustain life on Earth financially.

There are, however, small-time versions of the scam—the seemingly easy gig, low-paying but with a twist. In these scenarios you are no more a human being than you were in the corporate machine and thus need to be wary.

Take a quick look at Craigslist:

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I have a better than average nose for bullshit but I didn't always...

It was the classic bait and switch that only can be pulled on those in desperate circumstances.

While the job market wasn’t as dire as it has been for the past few years, my own job market was growing increasingly dim. I was married, she wasn’t working and I was unemployed. I was in that mad scramble many of us have felt to simply become employed. Bring in some money. Pay the ceaseless bill collectors. Keep a roof over our heads and a place for our furniture.

I’m not a particularly proud man when it comes to the job. I knew a long time ago that most jobs do not define you and are merely a means to an end. A paycheck. I am not entitled in that way that some are. The kind of entitled that says “I am worth more than this work. I am better than this. I will hold out for management placement,” or some sort of “Don’t you recognize how special I am?” horseshit. So when I interviewed for the Floor Manager position advertised at the Telemarketing Firm on Michigan Avenue and Jack said, “We’ll need to have you work the phones and the call lists for a week so that you can be up on the specifics,” I was fine with that. I mean, I did telemarketing one summer in college and while it is a vile and soul crushing experience, I could handle a week of it in order to get the higher paying non-phone gig.

My first day was dismal. I was assigned a desk—the kind of desk that was without any personality with the exception of the psychic residue of hundreds of others, just like me, who sat and called up strangers—most guaranteed to hang up on them straight out—for eight hours a day. No stranger to the cubicle job, I had my few personal touches—a “Coff-AY” mug, an R2-D2 action figure, a Far Side calendar of the day. I was given a file cabinet, filled with thousands of numbers, a cold call script and a phone with a giant headset that was modern about five years earlier.

And I started calling people. Trying to sell them medical textbooks. Something I had no knowledge of and less enthusiasm for than almost anything I could imagine. There was no paid lunch hour, so I worked through and grabbed a bag of M&Ms. “It’s only a week,” I kept reminding myself.

And that week slowly crawled by. Each time I walked to the L station, I felt disheartened. Each day I walked into the office, the ceilings felt lower, the lighting somehow more Se7en-like, the people becoming like gray-skinned homunculi. Trudy was a three-year veteran of the phones. She had the air of someone who was surviving rather than living within the short walls of her cubicle. Aside from the sound of people calling and speaking the same shitty script, the place felt like a mausoleum.

The following Monday, I came in with the expectation that the second phase of this new gig was underway. Jack came over. “Do you mind putting in another week on the phones? We’re going over our payroll paperwork and aren’t quite prepared for you to jump in as a supervisor. Just another few days.”

I needed the job. I needed the money. My choices were limited to go along to get along or spend another six weeks looking for something, anything in the arena of employ with the distinct possibility that it could be worse than this. (Like the time I was hired to sign up people for an Amoco Multi-pass at an area McDonalds for nine hours a day.) The trap of poverty is a quicksand that can engulf a life in no time at all. The only way out is a paycheck or an inheritance and I wasn't inheriting anything any time soon. Suddenly, our apartment, her student loans, the gas bill, all felt like heavy steel blocks tied to my limbs. Of course I said “Sure. No sweat!” like a team player.

Four more days of a creeping depression that made me feel like crying at odd times trudged along.

Friday morning. Jack announced on the intercom that we all were to come into the common area for an announcement. “Ah! Fucking A!,” I thought. "Now it’ll be announced that I’m now a supervisor. Finally!”

I walked in with the rest of the slouched, unhappy population. And Jack introduced us to the new Floor Manager—Steve.

I was stunned. Angry. When I asked a few minutes later what happened, what the deal was, Jack told me that Steve was just too qualified for the position but they would be very happy to keep me on the phones. I sat down at the crummy desk, the wind taken out of my sails. I wanted to take a baseball bat and smash the press board desktop, the shitty Dell computer and the phone to dust. I felt a hot flush crawl up my neck. I envisioned another day, week, month, year of this. I saw myself becoming Trudy.

“Where you going, Don? You OK?”

“I quit, Jack. The bait and switch on the position was bullshit.”

He smiled. HE SMILED! “If you leave, I’m not going to pay you for the two weeks you worked.”

“That’s OK. Take the paycheck and stuff it up your lying, shifty, monkey shit ass.”

I walked out and it seemed sunnier out than I remembered.

In famine times, you do what you gotta do. Bills need to be paid. There is, however, a limit to how much horseshit one should be required to eat (as I once told a supervisor at WBEZ, "Just because you put mustard on it doesn't mean this shit sandwich is not made mostly of shit.")

Be focused, don't panic (DO NOT PANIC!) and remember that you are worth more than the freelance wage available, even while accepting it.

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