Today, a Seattle City Council committee is considering an innovative proposal to address the fact that Uber & Lyft take advantage of a loophole to classify their drivers as “independent contractors” rather than employees — even though the app companies have total control over access to customers, they get to set the minimum payment for a ride, the pay per mile and per minute, and the price of insurance. (And even though the companies can change the pay whenever they want.)
By working this loophole, these companies avoid the responsibilities that other employers have to their employees — including basic rights like minimum wage and the right to organize.
Uber & Lyft offer extraordinary convenience — but passengers have a right to know that their fare dollars are going to support good jobs and living wage for drivers, not just multi-billion-dollar valuations for investors in the app-based economy.
But here are the kinds of stories drivers are telling:
“They have absolute control”
"Having a rating hanging over your head is like driving handcuffed. Us drivers, if we fall below a 4.6 rating we can be deactivated and removed from the system. So basically you lose your job, and you can't drive anymore..."
“Whatever they put on there, just click Yes — Yes, sir!”
"Right now, we don't have rights. We're not employees. They have all the rights. They have the license, they send me the customers, they can decide to suspend me at any time…"
“When the day comes to replace this car, the money won’t be there”
"That’s something we kinda push to the back of our minds because I think a lot of drivers have cars that we just got recently, they’re still under warranty, so we just kinda don’t think about that reality: that two or three years from now, repairs are gonna start happening, we’ll be wanting to replace them, and we won’t be able to do it…"
We need an innovative approach to protect drivers' rights because Uber & Lyft have a history of either ignoring rules they don’t like, or spending big bucks to write their own — they have more than 150 lobbyists in the US, and recently spent $1.2 million in Seattle alone on a single campaign.
Uber in particular also has a record of using their app and the data it generates for political purposes:
- Uber drivers in Hangzhou, China this summer received a message from the company warning that Uber planned to use the GPS tracking feature to identify any drivers who got near active protests against the company and quickly fire those drivers, in an effort to “maintain social order.” A spokesperson told local media, “We firmly oppose any form of gathering or protest.”
- In New York, Uber offered customers free rides to an anti-regulation protest they supported and then embedded a political call-to-action in its app for New York customers.
- A top-level Uber executive at a private party proposed spending a million dollars to investigate the “personal lives” and “families” of journalists critical of Uber.
- And just last week in Seattle, Uber deactivated a driver almost immediately after he spoke out to the media.
Uber & Lyft have great technology, but corporate loopholes are not an innovation. Their drivers should have the right to organize — and their passengers should have the right to know these are good jobs that pay a living wage.
There’s simply no reason why there should be a $51 billion loophole in our laws.