If Uber Wants It, It's Bad

Photo: AP

If you are negotiating with someone, and they are willing to make concessions as long as they keep one, single, big thing, then that is the thing that is important. Duh. Today, that thing is “your ability to live with human dignity.”

Uber and Lyft, the vanguards of the “gig economy,” have staked their entire business model on the ability to pretend that their employees are not employees. In the olden days, it was assumed that someone who works for your company is your employee. In our wondrous modern technological age, companies have figured out that if you call your employees “independent contractors,” you don’t have to give them a lot of stuff—workplace protections mandated by law, health care benefits, steady schedules, etc. Also they can’t unionize! This is wonderful, from the perspective of companies. It has made investors and executives very rich. The only cost has been that it casts millions of people into a hellish netherworld in which the fundamental state of being is an inability to cobble together a steady, dignified, sustainable life, no matter how hard you try. This is the “gig economy” at work.

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People who understand labor issues have long understood that the most direct and effective way to break this modern-day indentured servitude with a smile is to force these modern day companies to classify their workers as employees. All these companies have done is to find a nifty way to save themselves billions of dollars by circumventing U.S. labor and employment law, which was designed with “employees” in mind. Update the laws and the system will once again work, at least on a very basic level, as it is supposed to.

Multiple lawsuits have targeted ride sharing companies on this very front, but so far there has been no broad national resolution of the issue. Now, the state of California is considering a law that would strengthen standards and make it much harder to just classify workers as “independent contractors” for absurd reasons. The law has, at least, the potential to force companies like Uber and Lyft to reclassify many of their workers as true employees—which could threaten their business model, which is built on squeezing their workers for every last cent in order to trick credulous investors into pouring billions of dollars into companies that have never actually made a profit.

Uber and Lyft are scared. How do we know they are scared? Because they are offering a deal. The CEOs of those two companies published a joint op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle on this topic. Would you like to have a good laugh, by learning the title of this op-ed? The title is: “Uber, Lyft ready to do our part for drivers.”

Ho, ho, ho.

You see, they are enthusiastic to work with the state to ensure that “all workers, regardless of classification, are protected.” Oh? Regardless of classification, you say, CEOs of multibillion-dollar companies built on exploiting the legal differences in classification? The op-ed “suggested creating a new drivers’ organization that would advocate for workers and administer benefits,” and also “suggested giving drivers in California a base wage and providing certain benefits if the companies can continue labeling them as independent contractors.”

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So: the bosses of these companies offer you a company-approved thing that is not a union, and some benefits, as long as you do not, by any means, stop being independent contractors. Do we have a deal?

I sincerely hope that what I am about to say is already obvious to anyone empowered to be involved in negotiation legal, political, or labor policy, but: The one thing they don’t want to give you is the thing that you need to get. This offer from Uber and Lyft is like a kidnapper offering you a softer blanket, as long as you agree not to ever escape. No thanks. These companies know very well that once their workers become actual employees, they will get a host of benefits automatically, and they can formally unionize to win themselves many more benefits and increased pay. These companies, which have never made a dollar even while exploiting their workers, fear this. So they offer some concessions.

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The fact that they are offering means that there is more to be had. Get the thing they don’t want to give you. Please god do not fuck this one up.

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About the author

Hamilton Nolan

Senior Writer. Hamilton@SplinterNews.com