I am a writer. I’m also a part-time bike courier for UberEats, Postmates, and Caviar in New York City: a job I do on my own schedule on the side. I am the mythical “independent contractor” of the Silicon Valley platform that capitalists like Uber quote to justify California Prop 22, which, when passed in November, will permanently exclude delivery and ridesharing from employee status and therefore give them rights and withhold the protection they deserve.
Regardless of what these companies want you to do, most of their employees are Not like me. I am young I am a student. I have savings; I have my own health insurance. When the coronavirus hit New York in March, it was a easy decision for me stop making supplies and protect my health, even if it meant less income.
But recent studies on cities like new York, San Francisco, and Seattle show that I’m an outlier: the majority of the “gig workers” who do the bulk of the work on these platforms have no other job. You can’t afford to take time off even during a pandemic. They are mostly older men, mostly black and brown, often immigrants with no more than a university degree, who regularly work more than 30 hours a week to support families. You are significantly underinsured. Most can’t afford $ 400 emergency bills. The whole business model of these platforms depends on workers being misclassified with few other options.
It is important that we all understand the platform capitalists’ playbook. They are taking over industries by employing an under-regulated workforce and setting rock bottom prices. Companies are willingly losing billions of dollars a year to gain market share. This allows them to force concessions from local governments and further consolidate their dominance. Your ultimate goal is to become the sole provider of vital services, then raise prices, lower wages, and make a profit. All of this is subsidized through a pipeline of cash Venture capitalistwho understand that the long-term success of these platforms ultimately depends on their ability to control us – the workers. Misclassifications are their secret weapon.
Remember, like Uber’s main selling point, an app gives the customer instant gratification (for a ride or for their chicken taco). The company rigorously manipulates the “utilization”: the proportion of employees working on request (transportation of a passenger, delivery of food) to the total number of employees working online at a given point in time. To ensure customers don’t experience delays, companies purposely have far more people on board than they need so they can keep a significant reserve of us on standby and anxiously checking the app, ready and operational. Since the companies call us “independent contractors”, we are not compensated for this wait, although it is essential for service. Since we cannot set our own prices, our earnings are exposed to algorithms intended to waste our time.
Then a misclassification robs us of that money. As “independent contractors” we have to pay for our own expenses, vehicles, fuel, insurance and repairs. We are on the hook for both employee and employer contributions to social security and wage taxes. We are not entitled to any health benefits, no sick leave, no employee compensation if we are injured, and no minimum wage. We have no recourse if we are laid off or laid off (or are “deactivated” in the parlance of the gig economy) and receive no unemployment insurance afterwards. All of this is beneficial to the platform capitalists. A report from the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center estimates that Uber and Lyft dodged $ 413 million in unemployment insurance taxes over five years by misclassifying its drivers in California; Barclay analysts estimate that a misclassification almost spares Uber and Lyft cumulatively $ 800 million a year.
After taking into account expenses, taxes, missing services and waiting times at the workplace, our effective hourly rate ends far below the minimum wage in most states. As new study the New York ride-sharing economy summarized: “The app business model only works if it keeps driver usage low, which means that the hourly wages of drivers also remain low.” The only factor that maintains a minimum wage is the fact that the workers have quit.
But those who can afford to go like me are the lucky ones. The workers who actually keep the platforms afloat are locked up – and the bosses know it. The New York study found, “The app companies have been able to expand their workforce by mainly attracting immigrants with no four-year college degrees who face limited job opportunities. and 60 to 65 percent of app drivers are full-time employees with no other job, and about 80 percent bought a car to make a living driving it. “Last month one Amicus letter The ACLU and the National Employment Law Project put it more clearly: “Uber and Lyft do not offer“ opportunities ”to marginalized workers and color communities. Their misclassification model deepens the despair of workers who have been excluded from stable employment, with black and Latin American workers bearing the brunt of the burden. ”
As part of their propaganda effort, the app companies have a great show the “support” for Black Lives Matter amid this year’s protests. But when these companies encourage drivers to take out car loans, they will know they can’t afford it, they disproportionate harm black workerswho are more in debt than their white counterparts. If they refuse to provide wage data to states during the coronavirus pandemic, effectively cut off their workers By expanding unemployment benefits, they disproportionately harm black workers who are more likely to do so excluded from unemployment benefits. Thanks to a misclassification, employees cannot submit Title VII complaints against companies for discrimination.
Some governments have attempted to correct guidelines that preserve the classification of workers’ independent contractors while mandating fairer pay – just so the platforms can find workarounds. In 2019 New York City introduced one Minimum wage for ridesharing drivers This would vary with the overall load on the platform: if the platform kept more employees idle, it would have to pay higher rates to all employees. In response, Uber began banning some of the drivers from the app (so they wouldn’t count towards usage) and gave them limited options to sign in. Then drivers were rewarded who drove the most stressful hours with the ability to use the app normally. Drivers who were already dependent on cash were forced to sleep in their carsand waiting for every opportunity to sign up and work. Seattle just did announced a measure similar to New York, and again Lyft and Uber threaten to remove drivers from the app.
The New York case shows that misclassification was never about giving workers “flexibility”. Furthermore, the idea that if we were classified as workers we could lose our freedom is a horror tactic based on a fundamental misunderstanding of labor law: there is nothing that says that workers cannot be offered flexibility. “Employee” is a legal designation: an employee can work as few or as many hours as an employer agrees, plan shift times during ongoing operations and have several employers without impairing basic protection at the workplace.
The inequalities of the “gig economy” cannot be resolved without addressing the misclassification directly. The only law that has been done so far is California’s AB5was passed last year, putting more of a burden on companies to prove that their workers are truly independent contractors. In May, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued Uber and Lyft alleged violations of AB5; Failure to do so could force companies to pay workers hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution or even shut down entirely.
That’s why the platforms go all-in Prop 22Not only would this grant an exemption from AB5, but it would oblige seven eighths of California lawmakers to make further changes and prevent local governments from enacting stricter laws for companies to effectively cut the misclassification of their workers in stone. The companies cast one Record breaking $ 181 million in a “Yes to Prop 22” campaign that covered California with non-stop ads, paid “volunteers” for testimonials, registered a right troll army to Harass opponentsand added Scare news into the Uber app itself.
The claim that Prop 22 is “progressive” legislation for workers is based on insultingly misleading figures. Prop 22 is supposed to create a lower wage limit of 120 percent of the national minimum wage; The UC Berkeley Labor Center estimates that after considering waiting time, expenses, and taxes, that wage floor would actually be reached $ 5.64 per hour. The “Yes to Prop 22“Website claims workers prefer to be” 4 to 1 “independent contractors; what is not mentioned is that these numbers come from one Online survey on behalf of Lyft, which surveyed around 1,000 internet users who identified themselves as independent contractors – of whom only 9 percent were actual gig workers. The other 91 percent of those polled were freelancers, self-employed entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs – in other words, not the ones who fuel the bottom line of these platform capitalists.
The performance of these platforms has grown to terrifying new levels. Their business boomed during the pandemic, despite their disdain for workers hitting new lows: when the virus first emerged, DoorDash charged couriers as well $ 40 to buy hand sanitizer. Recently UberEats bought Postmates, Doordash bought caviar. This means workers have even less choice and less leverage.
However, resistance to the greed and cynicism of these companies is growing in strength and has resulted in powerful tools like AB5. Already legislators in new York and New Jersey have indicated to introduce similar bills. What happens in California in a few weeks’ time will send a message that other states will be paying close attention. The future of American work may very well depend on whether Prop 22 can be defeated.