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Back in 2007, Gerardo “Jerry” Vazquez was looking for work that would provide flexibility and independence. He needed a way to earn a living that could accommodate unpredictable hours so he could help care for his ailing dad.
This led him to a company called Jan-Pro. It sold him a franchise for his own personal janitorial business, allowing him to clean buildings at night. According to Jan-Pro, he would be an independent contractor. That appealed to Jerry — he’d always dreamed of running his own business.
After a few months, Jerry saw things very differently. Rather than feeling like an entrepreneur, Jerry felt more like an exploited employee. He owed Jan-Pro money to cover the franchise fees, he felt like he had little control over managing his business, and Jerry’s earnings, which arrived monthly in the form of a check from Jan-Pro, came out to less than minimum wage.
In this first episode, we’ll introduce you to Jerry, and over the next couple of weeks, we’ll find out what happened next. Later on this season, we’ll hear more stories from folks like Jerry as we explore this thing we used to call employment: what happened to it, why it happened and what this new kind of workforce means for the American dream.
For even more of “The Uncertain Hour,” subscribe to our newsletter! Each week we’ll bring you a note from host Krissy Clark and explain some terms that have come up in our reporting. This week we’re digging out some historical words that inform today’s conversation about work: servant and artisan.
Here’s a list of some additional reading, and material we used in our research:
- “The Fissured Workplace” by David Weil
- “Why the Law Still Can’t Tell an Employee When It Sees One and How It Ought to Stop Trying” by Richard R. Carlson
- “Employment by Design: Employees, Independent Contractors and the Theory of the Firm” by Richard R. Carlson
- “Who Can‘Seize the Day?’: Analyzing Who Is an‘Employee’ for Purposes of Unionization and Collective Bargaining Through the Lens of the‘Newsie’ Strike of 1899” by Hannah Esquenazi
Correction (Feb. 4, 2021): A previous version of this story misspelled Jerry Vazquez’s name. The text has been corrected.
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This season of “The Uncertain Hour” tells the unheard stories of real people affected by this thing we once knew as “employment.”
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