The gig economy is huge in Hawaii, but it comes with risks for workers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor says about a third of American workers participate in the gig economy.
Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 3:06 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 3, 2022 at 6:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In today’s hot job market, many workers are choosing to work for themselves.

But freelance work comes with risks.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor says about a third of American workers participate in the gig economy.

A state survey found about half of Oahu’s workers have done work that does not require a W-2 tax form. The percentage is about 20% each on Maui and the Big Island, and smaller on Kauai.

Like many gig workers, Zen Chambers takes on multiple jobs to afford the high cost of living ― some are one-time gigs with private individuals.

Chambers identifies, a transgender man who uses they/them pronouns, has been doing freelance construction projects for about eight years. The side jobs offer freedom and flexibility,

“After having different amounts of jobs, I noticed one thing for sure. I do good work. If anything, you know, I want to work for myself,” they said.

Last November, a woman hired Chambers to renovate her condo in McCully.

But after a week, they were told to stop work and leave.

“She refused to pay me due to what she stated was an incomplete job. And thus the hours that I did work, seemingly were for nothing,” Chambers said, adding the client refused to pay $1,600 for about 74 hours of labor.

Chambers went to small claims court, where a judge in June awarded them $700.

Despite attempts to collect the money, Chambers says the client has not complied.

Traumatized by the ordeal and without income, Chambers became houseless and moved to another island.

“I couldn’t work. I was still feeling that distrust of like, what I was seeing, what people were saying,” Chambers said. “Because the contract won’t save you from the snake, or cheat, or a scam, but it could protect you.

“It made me notice I wasn’t protecting myself and something I felt invested in.”

Nonprofit Hawaii Workers Center has been helping Chambers and other gig workers reclaim their livelihoods.

“So many times people just decide that’s that,” said Co-Executive Director Yoko Liriano.

“And so it’s really important for folks, step one, to say, ‘No, I earned this, this is my right,’ and fight for it.”

That fight now means going to court to garnish the client’s wages or repossess property. They can also report the case to a collection agency and impact the client’s creditworthiness.

Chambers hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“The feelings of how hard it’s been to prove something that I earn is mine. To get it, to gain it. You know, just is the most, most humbling,” they said.

For help, contact the Hawaii Workers Center or the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii at 808-536-4302.

This video also offers advice on how to collect judgment from small claims court.

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