Roundup: Uber's war on workers' rights continues

Read to the end for wild AI statements by tech’s thought leaders

Roundup: Uber's war on workers' rights continues
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in 2018. Source: Flickr/Techcrunch

I feel like there was a moment a few years ago when everyone was focused on how, virtually around the world, Uber was waging a war on the rights of its drivers and couriers that could have much wider implications if allowed to continue. But then something happened — maybe it was the pandemic, or the crypto boom, or something else — that seemed to shift most people’s focus away from the leading gig platform. But that doesn’t mean Uber’s war ended.

In recent weeks, there have been a series of stories illustrating how Uber is continuing to rack up wins and push its lobbying efforts in many different jurisdictions. In New York City, in response to a minimum wage rule that forces the company to pay drivers even for time they don’t have a passenger, Uber has been kicking drivers off the app at unpredictable times. They say it’s significantly reducing their pay and even further reducing the dependability of relying on it for income. I couldn’t help but think of when Uber used to say its model granted drivers a new form of freedom by working for themselves.

That’s not the end of it. In Massachusetts, there’s a settlement will see $175 million paid out to drivers and a $32.50 minimum wage established, but as Veena Dubal pointed out on Twitter, that’s only for “engaged time,” meaning the time a driver has a passenger. They still won’t be paid for all the time they sit around waiting. It’s not dissimilar to another deal made in Minneapolis recently, which set a $15 minimum wage after expenses with the same exclusion: drivers still won’t be paid while they’re waiting for a fare. Edward Ongweso Jr explained that it was less than previous proposals over the preceding two years and, ultimately, “preserves integral parts of the digital ride-hail model, allowing Uber and Lyft to continue operating and undermine the compromise later.”

In both of those jurisdictions, Uber was facing legislation that would have really chipped away at its power, so it went to work to convince lawmakers to accept a proposal that did give drivers some benefits, but didn’t challenge the authority the company has over them. It’s a further betrayal by those governments, who allowed companies like Uber and Lyft to run roughshod over workers’ rights in the first place and now won’t expend the political capital to fix the problem they created.

The high cost of Uber’s small profit
Workers and customers get squeezed so investors can make off like bandits

Meanwhile, in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Uber was recently legalized for the first time and the local governments were eager to set up whatever regulatory framework the company wanted — including independent contractors with no minimum wages. Recent reporting from The Independent found concern from the local police force that since the government allowed Uber to use a third-party contractor for its background checks that a “vulnerable sector check,” which includes a “check for pardoned sexual type crimes” and is usually necessary for people working with vulnerable groups, would not be performed.

Across the pond in Ireland, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has been personally lobbying top government officials (including the taoiseach, or prime minister) to try to remove a requirement that all new taxis be wheelchair-accessible and ensure drivers don’t need a good grasp of the local area where they’re operating. But one recent comment really stood out to me: Part of the roof recently collapsed outside Delhi airport in India, falling on some Uber and Ola drivers. On Twitter, Anish Gawande commented, “I was told the roof collapsed on Uber/Ola drivers - who have no voice to protest since they do not have a union. 20 years ago, taxi unions would've ensured heads would roll.”

Ensuring drivers no longer have that power is exactly what Uber and its model were meant to achieve, and every day it’s allowed to continue is a travesty.

In this week’s roundup, find some great pieces on why we need to destroy AI, how news media’s AI deals aren’t working out so well, and a tech entrepreneur behind an anti-Palestinian hate network. There are also plenty of labor updates and other tech news stories you might have missed. At the end, I wrote a little about a Twitter account sharing all the bullshit coming out of the mouths of tech’s (supposedly) brilliant minds.

Earlier this week, I wrote about Amazon’s disastrous plan to emulate Temu with a discount section of its own. Over on Tech Won’t Save Us, I interviewed Jason Hickel to find out the degrowth perspective on technology and how it would allow us to shift the focus of technological development away from profit to serve the public good.

Have a great week!