Politicians Turn to Start-Ups for Grasp of ‘Gig Economy’

Politicians Turn to Start-Ups for Grasp of ‘Gig Economy’

SAN FRANCISCO — Marco Zappacosta runs an Internet start-up called Thumbtack that matches plumbers, yoga instructors and other workers with jobs, putting him in the middle of what is called the “gig economy.” Now, that position has made him in demand with a group of political power players.

Last week, Mr. Zappacosta traded emails with Senator Mark R. Warner, Democrat of Virginia, who wanted to talk about how tech companies were changing the nature of work. In July, the Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush visited Thumbtack in San Francisco to discuss the gig economy and small businesses. In January, Mr. Zappacosta took dozens of the housecleaners, caterers and movers who use Thumbtack to the White House to talk with the Small Business Administration.

“I never had the expectation that senators and presidential hopefuls would want my views,” said Mr. Zappacosta, 30, who helped found Thumbtack six years ago.

Thumbtack is one of several start-ups that are being drawn into the debate over the future of work by politicians and policy makers. With the approach of an election year in which income inequality is expected to be fiercely debated, the security — or lack of security — that these types of jobs provide has become a central issue.

Many of today’s technology start-ups are enabling people to try to make a living by fulfilling one-time tasks or doing freelance work, fueling the rise of the gig economy. The trend is exemplified by Uber, the giant ride-hailing company, which directly employs about 4,000 people but has more than 160,000 drivers in the United States who depend on it for at least part of their livelihood.

Politicians are seeking out start-ups like Thumbtack to learn more about how they work, especially because their business models represent a counterpoint to Uber’s.

While Uber requires drivers to use its app to find passengers for rides, for example, Thumbtack merely arranges an introduction between a worker and a job — the relationship is maintained outside the company. Other start-ups that have been approached by politicians include Munchery, a food delivery company that employs its chefs and drivers, and Managed by Q, an on-demand office maintenance service that also has full-time workers. (By contrast, Uber drivers are classified as independent contractors.)

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