In the past, the only options for transportation were your own personal modes of transportation, public transportation or taxi cabs. Living in New York City, I would always opt for a taxi if I did not have my own car with me. In 2009, Uber revolutionized the transportation industry, allowing people to pay hired drivers to come pick them up and take them wherever they want. People pay for their rides electronically through the app, rather than using cash. On the surface, Uber seemed like the perfect solution to a transportation problem, but as Uber grew in popularity, issues started to arise.
One of the most important accomplishments of Uber was that they made it so that anyone who had a car could make money through their services. Some people made being a driver for the company their sole income, others used it to supplement their pre-existing job and others drove just for fun, to meet new people. Regardless of their reasons for joining, some drivers started to develop a grievance with the company because it did not extend workplace benefits and protections to them. The drivers of Uber were classified as independent contractors, in other words, Uber did not have to provide them with any benefits. The only thing they were responsible for was compensating them for their time. Being independent contractors allowed drivers to create their own hours and drive for as little or as much time as they decided. However, when you have people working for your company for eight or more hours a day, you need to provide them with workplace benefits and protections. At the end of the day, these people would earn approximately $10 an hour, which is well below the national minimum wage. In my opinion, this more than constitutes unjust working conditions. For the people whose main source of income comes from driving for Uber, they are 100 percent correct in wanting the company to give them workplace benefits and protections, which would include services like paid sick leave and minimum wage. In an article from the New York Times, an Uber driver spoke out about these unfair working conditions.
“Because of repeated pay cuts and an influx of drivers on the road, I saw friends working 80-hour weeks who could barely make enough money to pay rent. I know drivers who suffered positional stress injuries from hours sitting behind the wheel without a break, but who had no health insurance or workers’ compensation. When the pandemic hit, I saw fellow drivers struggle to navigate the unemployment system in California that Uber at one point argued shouldn’t be extended to us, even though the law clearly makes us eligible for benefits.”
This is an unjust way to treat employees, and no employee should be subjected to this type of treatment. If you run a company you need to treat your employees fairly, and you need to compensate them fairly. The topic of better working conditions has been an ongoing issue in society and we as a community need to do better.
In response to the drivers’ complaints, the California legislature passed a law obligating companies to extend workplace benefits and protections to their employees. However, Uber and Lyft refused to enact this law. According to the New York Times, Uber instead has opted to spend 30 million dollars on a November ballot initiative in California that will permanently exempt the company from nearly every basic state and local labor law, including overtime, paid sick leave and unemployment insurance. On Sept. 11, Uber and Lyft faced a court deadline that required their chief executives to swear under oath that they had plans to comply with state law if their ballot initiatives fail. They will then have to comply with the original order.
Treatment of workers is an important issue that needs to be addressed more often. It isn’t right for companies to take advantage of their workers, and in the future we need to hold these companies accountable for their actions. When we see workers being disrespected, we need to speak up.
To see how COVID-19 has impacted rideshare services, check out this article here.