Uber Wants To Help Drivers Get Benefits, But Some Say This Is Bad News For Gig Workers


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For years, Uber has battled driver complaints of unfair therapy. However this week, the $48 billion startup introduced its curiosity in exploring state laws that might present sure advantages to gig employees, lots of whom — together with attorneys and labor activists — have fought for years to be acknowledged as workers.

On the floor, the shocking information implies that Uber’s sense of duty to its huge unbiased contractor workforce has shifted. However critics say it’s little greater than a PR scheme designed to distract from Uber’s years-long battle with the Teamsters union in Seattle.

“The world of labor is altering,” reads the letter, which was revealed Tuesday and cosigned by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. “At a primary degree, everybody ought to have the flexibility to guard themselves and their family members once they’re injured at work, get sick, or when it’s time to retire.”

Setting apart the truth that Uber is considered one of, if not the, most potent technological forces driving these modifications within the so-called world of labor, the corporate’s curiosity in extending additional help to gig employees is huge — and shocking — information. However the announcement additionally has the potential to deal a deadly blow to one of many nation’s solely promising makes an attempt to present Uber drivers actual collective bargaining energy by way of a union.

The letter in query, whereas imprecise, loosely outlines how each Uber and different gig financial system firms may probably assist gig employees pay for advantages like unemployment insurance coverage or employees’ compensation by collectively paying right into a fund that the employee, the opposite platforms they work on, and the federal government additionally contribute to. It doesn’t supply any particular particulars about how such a deal would truly work, and Uber instructed BuzzFeed Information it’s extra of a place to begin than an actual coverage proposal.

The controversy, nonetheless, isn’t over what’s or isn’t within the letter, however who signed it.

The Service Workers Worldwide Union’s David Rolf, together with enterprise capitalist and civic activist Nick Hanauer, have been making an attempt to advance moveable advantages as a practical answer to the gig financial system drawback for years. Rolf is the president of an SEIU native in Washington state, which represents dwelling care employees, not drivers. He and Hanauer have been engaged on moveable advantages laws in Washington state since final yr, which West Coast representatives for Uber say is when the corporate first grew to become keen on working with them on the coverage.

However labor activists say Rolf’s willingness to work with Uber has created a chance for the corporate to legally enshrine the drivers’ standing as unbiased contractors, not workers, and makes Uber look keen to work with labor, regardless of its strident marketing campaign in opposition to the Teamsters in Seattle.

“This is not only a matter of Washington state,” stated Hector Figueroa, an government with an SEIU native in New York. Years of observing Uber’s ways on the bottom have left him cautious of reducing any take care of the corporate. “Washington is opening the door for one thing we imagine is dangerous for employees. So we’re going to oppose it, regardless that a sister union is actively concerned.”

Conventional labor organizers like Figueroa need Uber drivers to be categorized as workers, not as unbiased contractors. This could give drivers the safety of minimal wage legal guidelines whereas additionally guaranteeing them sure advantages, like paid sick depart. The organizers’ concern is that, if labor collaborates with Uber on moveable advantages coverage, the laws will cement drivers’ standing as contractors, which might compromise their rights and bargaining energy whereas making Uber look each progressive and beneficiant.

In Seattle, Uber has actively fought in opposition to efforts by the Teamsters to arrange drivers. Town of Seattle handed an ordinance in 2015 that allowed employees to arrange and collectively cut price in opposition to trip hail firms like Lyft and Uber regardless that they weren’t workers. However the legislation, the primary of its type and a coverage innovation, didn’t get these keen on unionizing drivers very far.

Whereas Uber fought the Teamsters on the bottom degree, programming an anti-union podcast and providing free pizza to drivers who got here to anti-union conferences, the US Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit and tried to combat the invoice within the courts. Proper now, the invoice is hung up within the ninth Circuit, and the Teamsters, regardless of having gained their software to signify drivers, remains to be ready on a listing of driver names and phone information that will enable them to start their organizing marketing campaign.

The Teamsters in Seattle stated they bought no warning concerning the deal between Rolf and Uber in any respect. Rolf’s workplace blamed a miscommunication and stated the Teamsters’ efforts have his full help. “We help the Teamsters efforts in organizing,” he instructed BuzzFeed Information. “We have at all times labored nicely along with the Teamster group, and we count on to on this concern as nicely.

However some say that no matter Rolf’s motives could be, his choice advantages Uber with out securing any actual ensures for the drivers.

“Placing a top-down take care of a company doesn’t change organizing. It is not progressive. It is a cop out,” stated Bhairavi Desai, president of the New York Taxi Employees Alliance, which has fought Uber on behalf of employees because it launched. “There is no doubt that is meant to present Uber some sort of political cowl.”

The Teamsters stated drivers they spoke to have been “excited to listen to that advantages for employees have began to be a part of the dialog at Uber.” However a spokesperson additionally identified that there’s “nothing holding firms again from providing advantages to employees who want them right now,” and that the invoice does nothing to handle different issues drivers have, like increased pay and extra respect.

The spokesperson stated the Teamsters’ organizing efforts in Seattle would proceed, however declined to say whether or not the Teamsters intend to signal on to Uber’s moveable advantages letter.

A consultant for Uber in Seattle stated the corporate continues to oppose unionization efforts in Seattle, saying “the notion that the Teamsters are the suitable rep is one I might problem.”

Whereas Uber has cosigned a letter with Rolf expressing curiosity in exploring the potential for moveable advantages, the corporate has not truly cosigned the proposed laws, which, in its present kind, asks for employers to contribute 25% per transaction to the fund, or $6 an hour, whichever is increased.

Rolf stated he expects, because the invoice strikes by the legislature, there will likely be a wholesome debate over how a lot cash every celebration ought to contribute. “The businesses will need to go to low, and the employee advocates will need to have a charge that’s equal to a W-2 worker,” he stated.

Uber’s letter stated the plan is to discover a compromise that addresses “the necessity to promote a rising lifestyle in addition to wholesome, worthwhile companies.”

For Rolf, getting Uber on board with moveable advantages is a coup. Different supporters of the concept, together with Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who has proposed federal moveable advantages laws, tweeted their approval of the deal.

“Various different on-demand firms voiced their help for these principals two years in the past,” Rolf stated. “Uber was underneath completely different management then. They clearly had some reputational points. It appears to me there’s perhaps a unique philosophy on the high of the group now about working with others.”

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