What Could a Gig Worker Safety Net Look Like?

In this week’s rideshare roundup, senior RSG contributor John Ince highlights some interesting articles about how a gig worker-focused safety net could be structured, plus how the Teamsters are trying to force Uber and Lyft to disclose their lobbying efforts, and more below.

The self-defeating flaw at the core of gig companies like Uber and DoorDash [FastCompany]

Sum and Substance:  … Prop 22 has exempted app-based transportation and delivery companies from providing the benefits typically reserved for full-time employees (such as health insurance, PTO, and retirement) to the independent contractors that power their businesses. The record-breaking campaign that Uber and other gig companies waged led to the prop’s passage—and serves as a stark reminder that not every human-driven business is ready to center themselves around the people driving their success. Gig platforms, in particular, have struggled with this issue, leading to driver protests and unionization efforts.

My Take:  The article is a bit self-serving, but it makes a good point. Understand the human dimension of your “workforce” and you’ll be a lot better off. Not sure Uber and Lyft have internalized this point.

Uber, Instacart and others’ vaccine hypocrisy [WashingtonPost]

Sum and Substance: If you believe Instacart, the hundreds of thousands of “shoppers” who fulfill its customers’ orders are not full-time employees. Sure, shoppers tell of working 50-hour weeks or more, and, yes, the company’s algorithms encourage shoppers to work more hours to receive more orders.

But they’re not full-time employees, insists the company, since that would require a minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation and other inconveniences to Instacart’s bottom line. So the company, along with other “gig economy” behemoths such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, spent millions to help pass Proposition 22 in California last month, which protected those employees’ status as “contract workers.”

But now, with coronavirus vaccines on the way and money to be made, these companies are singing a different tune. Axios reports that Instacart has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as all 50 states, to classify its workers as “essential” and receive early access to vaccines. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have made similar requests.

My Take:  Not much to argue with here. These companies regularly change their argument depending on who they’re arguing and over what issue.

Yes, Uber and Lyft are essential workers. Does that mean they’re employees of the companies? Oh well. Maybe that’s just too difficult to answer.

Uber is trying to win back ridership with a kinder, gentler image  [Quartz]

Sum and Substance: Uber announced this week that it is committing 10 million free or discounted rides to help “vulnerable communities” around the world get access to Covid-19 vaccinations. The company says it will work with organizations that have “deep ties to communities of color that have been disproportionally hurt by the pandemic” to provide rides to and from initial vaccination appointments, and for the follow-up shots that will be needed a few weeks later.

Uber says the goal is to “make sure that transportation is not a barrier to getting the vaccine.”

My Take:  This gesture is nice. But it’s a little late in the game for Uber to try to retool its image.  Take spending $200+ million to defeat AB5 with Prop 22. Was that a kinder, gentler company?

The broken business model of Uber and Lyft is taking a heavy toll on society  [Fortune]

Sum and Substance:  What would a safety net look like for gig workers in the Internet-based economy?

It would provide health insurance, naturally, and a retirement plan, sick leave, and injured worker and unemployment compensation. And it would be equitable and portable: A person working part-time for different companies would have robust benefits that travel with them from job-to- job.

The good news is that we know how to design that sort of safety net. The bad news is that the digital platform companies keep missing opportunities to make it a reality. …

My Take:  This is an eminently sensible idea.  Gig workers would have a portable safety net that would follow them wherever they go. Why is this issue so difficult?

Well, the answer to that question might have something to do with the fact that Uber, Lyft, et all are losing billions. That’s the problem. Their business model just doesn’t work.

Teamsters Union Is Trying to Force Uber and Lyft to Disclose Lobbying Efforts [Vice]

Sum and Substance: The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is using its Capital Strategies Department—an advisor to the Teamsters and its affiliated benefit funds with over $100 billion in investments across capital markets—to introduce shareholder proposals at Uber and Lyft calling for full disclosure of direct and indirect lobbying activities and expenditures.

Over the past year, the ride-hailing companies have not only spear-headed a $203 million campaign to pass Prop 22 and keep their workers misclassified in California, but have also laid the groundwork for similar campaigns across Illinois and New York.

My Take:  This is a surprise, but very welcome.  Lobbying is a huge part of what Uber, Lyft do and for the Teamsters to call out the companies would be a big step forward.  Whether this has any chance of success is another matter.

Uber and Lyft’s Gig Work Law Could Expand Beyond California  [Wired]

Sum and Substance:  IN NOVEMBER, GIG companies including Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart helped pass California’s Proposition 22, effectively writing their own labor law. Now the companies plan to bring similar legislation elsewhere.

Last month, the companies launched a group called the App-Based Work Alliance to support their agenda. Industry-supported bills in the works in New York state and Illinois would, like the California ballot measure, deny gig workers status as employees, and the workers’ compensation, paid family leave, sick pay, unemployment insurance, and minimum wage guarantees that come with it.

But the bills could give gig workers the right to form something resembling a union, allowing workers to bargain with multiple employers to create wage floors and standards. US workers in trucking, auto manufacturing, and grocery stores have participated in types of industry-wide bargaining, though the arrangement is more common in Europe.

My Take:  This is complicated stuff.  Yes, Prop 22 pretty much gave the power to the companies.  But giving some power back to the millions of workers in the form of setting up a “union” would be a big step. Who knows how this will play out, but it’s definitely worth watching.

Can a Worker-Owned App Pull Drivers From Uber and Lyft? [Curbed]

Sum and Substance: … As a new year dawns, Uber looks formidable.

But a scrappy new platform hopes to become a thorn in Uber’s flank. Though the Drivers Cooperative has existed for under a month, its three co-founders tell Curbed that their democratic worker-owned platform has the potential to siphon off drivers from an exploitative rideshare industry.

My Take:  This is a very interesting article and a very interesting idea. A driver cooperative that would have the driver’s true interest at heart.

Honestly, I think it’s a tough go.  The bells and whistles do matter.  Maybe it will work over time.  I certainly would give it a try.  But I’m not everybody.  And Everybody is on the other platform – right now at least…

Readers, what do you think of this week’s roundup?

-John @ RSG