On-demand rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are criticized for classifying drivers as contractors rather than employees, making it difficult for them to organize and push for changes in pay and benefits. Now, the Seattle city council has passed an ordinance that will give those drivers more power.
App-driven companies that follow a contractor model to dispatch drivers will need to provide the city with a list of their contractors, who can then be contacted by a union to assess their interest. A majority of drivers will still need to vote in favor of joining, but the ordinance lays out a process. Given Uber’s litigious attitude, I fully expect them to find some way to appeal this decision.
I don’t object to drivers organizing, but I am concerned that it could make the service less appealing and that drivers may not see some of the benefits they hope to realize.
I like that Uber has low costs and automates credit card payments. It’s both cheaper and easier to use Uber than to take a taxi. If that changes, I might not use Uber nearly as often, preferring to take a bus, to walk, or even to buy my own car again.
I like that Uber has a rating system and doesn’t allow tipping. While there might be some opportunity to create an appeals process, at the same time it usually means that those drivers that remain are very good — and in theory tips aren’t necessary if you offer uniform service. I get a prompt from Uber if I ever rate a driver three stars or below, and sometimes a refund.
I like that Uber has tracking software to encourage drivers to take the most efficient route and prevent drivers from pulling tricks like trying to turn off the meter. These have not been huge issues in Seattle, but I have encountered them often when taking taxis elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad.
Ultimately, I think this becomes a philosophical argument about what rights and obligations exist when a company like Uber begins to attract more career drivers vs. the casual freelancers it was designed to manage. Uber’s existing model works very well for people who are actually contractors. I don’t think someone who works a few hours a week would want to deal with the hassle of a union or see higher fares that reduce demand. And if this is a part-time gig rather than a professional occupation, it’s really not a big deal if they get fired for poor service.
When that kind of company starts to attract professional drivers, even people who buy a car for the express purpose of driving for Uber, you’re going to get conflict. Those people can’t afford to get kicked out. They need higher base fares to see them through periods of slow demand. That’s essentially the system that taxis operate under.
I have seen Uber promote this idea, and they even partner with companies to make it easier to buy a car and drive full time. That could be a mistake. They need to pick one path or the other. If they devote themselves to offering a fleet of part-time drivers who work only when they feel like, then I think additional rules and regulations — other than basic safety — are largely unwarranted. But if they act like a professional taxi firm, then I think they need to live with the consequences.