Monday, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ordered Uber and Lyft to cut the crap and start treating their drivers like actual, real-live employees with benefits and not “independent contractors," a fancy term for people who aren't paid enough to survive.

It's one thing if everyone who worked at Uber and Lyft were “independent contractors." That would still suck but it's in the general galaxy of fairness. However, Uber and Lyft have thousands of employees who code, coordinate operations, and develop products, the kind of stuff you do while wearing a hoodie and occasionally playing ping-pong in the break room. It's the drivers they treat like dirt, and that's especially appalling considering drivers provide the companies' core service.

Last year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law reaffirming a 2018 Supreme Court decision that established a stringent “three-part test" for separating the employee wheat from the independently contracted chaff.

A worker is only an independent contractor if she is not under the control or direction of the company while she's working; if her work is "outside the usual course" of the company's business; and if she is "customarily engaged" in the same kind of work that she does for the company.

It seemed obvious that ride-share companies couldn't seriously argue their drivers weren't critical employees, but Uber's legal response was “why so serious?" Uber argued that it was a simple, country technology company that provided a service to drivers not to riders. The drivers are Uber's actual customers. However, treating your customers like crap is a questionable business model. One Uber office in Rhode Island even forced its drivers to use separate (but we're sure totally equal) bathrooms from their employees.


Uber still won't accept that it's a transportation company and is preparing to throw a tantrum over the judge's ruling. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi threatened to shut down its service entirely until the November election, when an Uber-funded initiative appears on the ballot that would permit the company to continue screwing its drivers.

From Politico:

"We think we comply by the laws, but if the judge and the court finds that we're not and they don't give us a stay to get to November then we'll have to essentially shut down Uber until November when the voters decide," Khosrowshahi said.

That's bullshit. The company's hoping voters will care more about their convenience than the rights of drivers, who don't receive Social Security contributions, sick leave, or a guaranteed minimum wage. It's obscene to “negotiate" with the livelihoods of more than 100,000 California Uber drivers during an economic crisis.

Analysts estimated last year that reclassifying its drivers as employees would cost Uber "$3,625 per California driver, or about $500 million a year." Uber's total reported revenue for 2019 was $4.2 billion, and Khosrowshahi was just thrilled about what this meant for his shareholders.

"2019 was a transformational year for Uber and I'm gratified by our progress, steadily delivering against the commitments we've made to our shareholders on our path to profitability," said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO.

COVID-19 led to a staggering decrease in the company's ride shares, but business for the Uber Eats delivery service more than doubled in the past three months.

Like most big tech companies, Uber sucks at diversity. According to the company's 2019 diversity and inclusion report, 3.6 percent of tech employees were Black and 4.4 percent were Latino. Uber doesn't break down demographics of its drivers, who aren't “actual" employees, after all, but a 2015 survey revealed that 24 percent of drivers were Black and 20 percent were Latino.

Now is a good time for everyone to consider a general strike of Uber.

[Politico / Wired]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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