Lawrence Moss of Long Beach, CA, and Cigdem Akbay of Los Angeles both worked up to 40 hours per week as “juicers” for Netflix — people paid to watch shows and movies for the company’s secretive “Project Beetlejuice” department and select still images for webpage highlights. While that might sound like a dream come true for many people, the plaintiffs argue that their contract gigs should be considered full-time employment, and therefore be eligible for benefits.
Moss and Akbay are just two of apparently hundreds of contractors with Netflix, though the company has remained quiet about the nature of the work, as the class action lawsuits remain underway with the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Akbay’s case in particular claims that “theoretically, [she] could set her own hours, but Netflix imposed deadlines for assignments that in effect imposed a rigid work schedule.” She says that when she made clear to the company that the “juicer” gig had become her main source of income, she was terminated in 2014.
Unfortunately, none of these stories are unfamiliar cries in the realm of the freelance gig economy. Similar lawsuits have been filed by contractors working with Uber, Lyft, Handy, and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, who often engage in full-time work weeks without full-time benefits.
Of particular concern is healthcare coverage. Shannon Liss-Riordan, lead attorney in a similar class action lawsuit brought by Uber drivers arguing to be re-classified as “employees” instead of “contractors,” spoke to NPR about the problem.
“Many drivers have included on their list of issues that they are on their own for health insurance,” said Liss-Riordan. “These drivers are left in the cold.”
Minor healthcare procedures — and costs — can add up quickly. For example, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a flu vaccine every year for all people age six months and older. Other unexpected health costs could be much more costly.
The parallels between the Uber and Netflix lawsuits may be a sign of impending change for contract work.
“There is a perfect storm of events, which includes the proliferation of ‘gig economy’ jobs and the advent of legislation with strict penalties for misclassification,” says attorney Kate Gold with Drinker Biddle and Reath. “The employment laws have not kept pace with the new realities of the labor economy.”