Union organizer will discuss the gig economy at campus events

Bhairavi Desai

Bhairavi Desai, the founding member and director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, will discuss the sharing economy and gig workers at upcoming events at UO campuses in Eugene and Portland.

Desai will discuss “On the Frontlines of the Gig Economy: Organizing Taxi Workers Under Ubernomics” as part of the Wayne Morse Center’s Margaret Hallock Program for Women's Rights. Both events are free and open to the public.

The Portland event will take place May 2 at 7 p.m. at SEIU 503 Hall, 6401 S.E. Foster Road. The Eugene event will take place May 3 at 7 p.m. at the Ford Alumni Center’s Giustina Ballroom.

Ellen Herman, who co-directs the Wayne Morse Center, said Desai’s experience with the taxi workers alliance offers insights into the gig economy and the future of work.

“In the brave new world of the ‘sharing economy,’ work flows easily across borders and platforms of many kinds,” she said. “One result is that more and more workers — and not just Uber drivers — lack the legal protections of employees. What would happen if the growing number of independent contractors who work ‘on demand’ started to make demands on the companies they work for?”

Desai, who moved to the United States from Gujarat, India, as a child, doesn’t drive taxis or have a driver’s license. But since founding the taxi workers alliance in 1998, she’s worked to ensure the union’s 19,000 members are supported and represented.

Desai has a long history in organizing and activism, including working with the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence and serving on the AFL-CIO executive board. Desai received the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award in 2005.

The lecture series commemorates the legacy of Margaret Hallock, former director of the Wayne Morse Center, who retired in December of 2015 after 30 years at the University of Oregon.

These events are funded in part by the Lorwin Lectureship on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women in Society.

—By Brooke Harman, Wayne Morse Center communications intern