Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Name Game in the Gig Economy

Catalants and the Gig Economy

I love to be right.  A few months back I blogged about my amusing experience applying to join the Hourly Nerd  digital talent platform.  I asked the question, "$22 million in funding and they couldn't come up with a better name?"  This week they announced a new name -- "Catalant".

I have been involved as a client in several corporate naming exercises.  With only good thoughts for my old friends at Landor Associates, I just love the whole explanation about why a certain combination of letters will be a good new name.  Now that owning the URL is paramount, most existing English language words are taken, as are well-known Latin or foreign terms.  (My son who was a Classics major could be a source of some good ancient Greek phrases though...)

So Catalant is a combination of catalyst, talent and brilliant, or so they say.  The name change theoretically ushers in a new future for the well-funded digital talent platform  where they tout the new world where " companies can instantly access the precise talent they need  when they need it." The video is lovely, despite its obvious overstatement.

The world they describe is not that new.  I am fairly sure I had virtually that same verbiage in the marketing  materials of my company, M Squared,  25 years ago.  Similarly, other firms that have been around a while, like The Business Talent Group (BTG) and Cerius Executives are demonstrating how companies are using on demand expertise.  Maybe this model is new for Catalant, but it is not so new for the world.

In an article in BostInno, the founders mention that the original intention was to go after small businesses but now they see that big companies can use them as a source of flexible talent. Their algorithms are key to that value to large companies. Their platform can index all skills and find the right person.  That may be so. For me, it is all about trust.

My former company -  and BTG and Cerius for that matter -  provide  our big company clients more than algorithms; we provide trust and judgement.  If I told a client he really should talk to Harry for a sensitive, strategic project even though Harry may not seem on point, they did it because they trusted me and my understanding of the consultants, the gig and their environment. Perhaps algorithms may get there, but as someone in the Hourly Nerd, excuse me, Catalant network, I have yet to be matched with a project appropriate to my skills. As such, I am still a bit of a skeptic about the perfection of the algorithm.

And by the way, I learned from the Bostinno article, Hourly Nerd isn't going away entirely.  It will be the product offering to the small business marketplace So big companies get brilliant talent and little companies get nerds...go figure...

Wrestling the independent contractor problem

Independent Contractors and Entertainment Law

This week  World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was sued on behalf of dozens for former wrestlers who claim the company hid the adverse neurological effects of repeated poundings received in the wrestling ring. This misrepresentation and concealment of the potential injuries faced was compounded by the fact that the wrestlers are not employees, but independent contractors  who are not covered by insurance .images

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must first say I have never understood why wrestling is considered a sport. ( Similarly I never understood why boxing is  in the Olympics either. )

The truth of the matter is  WWE is not a sport, but rather  entertainment. They are not legitimate contests, but rather scripted promotions, with specially choreographed moves designed to titillate the  audience.   These intentional moves are part of the reason the plaintiffs are seeking to be seen as employees; they were required to do these moves , hence WWE exerted direction and control, ergo there is an employment relationship. 

Of course, it is not that simple.  This claim has been made several times over the years , yet the issue has never been resolved.  The claims were not dismissed, but settled which means the body of law governing the relationship has never been addressed. In other words, WWE has successfully avoided the legal determination of  the employment status of the wrestlers.

As a rational and fairly non violent person, it is hard for me to believe that any entertainer engaged in body slamming and head bashing moves would be unaware of the inherent physical and neurological risks involved.  Given the litigious nature of America, entertainment and sports, it is also hard to believe that the contracts committing the talent were silent on this subject. None the less, it does appear this suit could have merit.

In response to an earlier lawsuit in 2007, the WWE replied that its talent were independent contractors because they could negotiate their own contracts aimages-1nd had no corporate duties.   They were much like the talent on soap operas, the company argued. However, the argument is specious on several counts.  First, employees can also negotiate their agreements, so that is not a differentiation.  Second, they have duties in terms of dress code and appearance requirements.  And although a comparison could be made to soap opera talent, that  talent is unionized.  Jess Ventura tried and failed to unionize the WWE talent, but perhaps that is another option.

Various legal experts have chimed in on the independent contractor issue. Since independent contractor is an undefined term in the law, it is typically governed by the IRS 20 points.  These 20 conditions need not all be true to make one an independent contractor, which adds to the ambiguity.  According to a recent University of Louisville Law Review study, the  consensus seems to be that WWE wrestlers meet the employee criteria in 16 of the 20 points. Most legal experts seem to see it the plaintiffs way.

Many of the wrestling cognoscenti have lamented the fact that few wrestlers wanted to challenge their employment status in the courts.  Well that day has now come.  I can’t help but wonder if all the focus on uber drivers and independent contractor status didn’t prompt some additional discussions. WWE says the suit will be quickly dismissed.  I am interested to wait and see.

 

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