The Uncertain Hour from Marketplace

About the Program

What happened to the good American job? The kind where you work for one company for years and get things like health insurance, paid sick days and at least minimum wage. Today, a growing number of companies argue that they’ve come up with something new and better: a "gig" economy where workers are "independent contractors" who own their own businesses and get more flexibility, but don’t get the traditional protections that come with being an employee. Silicon Valley firms like Uber trumpet this model as the future of work. But it turns out, the gig economy isn’t new. As long as the United States has had employment laws, there have been some companies who say those laws shouldn’t apply to their workers — because their workers are independent contractors.

In this special program from Marketplace’s podcast “The Uncertain Hour,” we explore the long history and controversial future of the gig economy by turning to a decidedly low-tech example: janitorial companies that rely on an army of independent contractor janitors. We dive in to the story of one of these janitors, a man named Jerry Vazquez.

Like many Americans, Jerry always dreamed of working for himself. So when he saw a notice in the PennySaver saying he could start his own business for $950 down, he decided to go all in. He bought a janitorial franchise with a company called Jan-Pro. But he says Jan-Pro set his rates, directed his work, made him wear a uniform, and set his schedule. Soon, Jerry began feeling like he didn't have much control over a business that he supposedly owned — and he was earning less than minimum wage doing a dirty job.

Jerry decided it was time to fight back. He and some of his fellow Jan-Pro franchisees — most immigrants or people of color — sued the company, saying they’d been misclassified as independent contractors when they should have been employees entitled to minimum wage, overtime and other protections. Their case is having profound ripple effects across the gig economy. The story of these janitors and their below-the-radar lawsuit is part of a larger story about how work in America is changing, becoming more precarious and more reliant on “nonemployees” who are not protected by standard American labor laws. We’ll go deep into the long and strange battle over who deserves worker protections and who is excluded — a struggle that connects to power, race and important questions about what companies owe the people whose labor they rely on.


One hour

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Preview audio available: August 11, 2021
Promo spot available: August 11, 2021
Program rundown available: August 23, 2021
Date content will be uploaded: August 23, 2021


Broadcast Window

August 25, 2021 - October 31, 2021

Broadcast Rights

Available to all APM affiliates; subscription to the APM Presents package is not required for carriage. Affiliate stations may carry this program multiple times before November 1, 2021. The program must be carried in its entirety. No excerpting is permitted. Simulcast streaming rights are available for this program. Prior to carrying this program, stations must contact their American Public Media Station Relations Representative.

Krissy Clark

Krissy Clark is the host and senior correspondent for Marketplace's award-winning podcast The Uncertain Hour, a show that explains our weird, complicated, and often unequal economy – and why some people get ahead, and some get left behind. Each season Clark and team dive into obscure policies and forgotten histories to explain why America is like it is – from welfare reform, to the drug war, to why it’s so much harder to get a “good job” right now. The Uncertain Hour goes deep to tell us how we got here and what it all means.

Throughout her career in journalism, Krissy has been recognized for her work—she is a Gracie Award winner, a nominee for a James Beard Award, and was a Stanford Knight Journalism Fellow. She was on a team of reporters who received an Investigative Reporters and Editors medal and a national Scripps Howard Award, and she shares a First Prize in Investigative Reporting from the National Awards for Education Reporting. She was a finalist for two Loeb Awards, the Livingston Award for Journalists Under 35, and two Third Coast Awards.

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