Uber Drivers Divided

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Uber is held together by us; the drivers are the glue. How then, we, the important component are always in protest, and speak of the unfairness and disrespect. We speak to each other in airport lots, chat on Facebook pages, we tweet and message each other. In almost all these communications praise for Uber is absent and low moral high. Studies point to weaknesses of groups. Intra-groups and inter-groups are the two kinds that are studied under various hypotheses constructed to prove relationships among members and between groups. In the case of Uber, drivers encounter problematic situations that arise in terms of unity and division which impede any progress. Some of these situations are dependent on exterior inputs and some directly related to drivers and their belief system of the issues at hand.

A Vastly Diverse Bunch of Drivers

We are a diverse group in terms of age, gender, immigration status, full time occupation, family bread winners, or just gig happy part timers. The focal issue is earnings and the fairness of the rate we receive. Aside from reported averages, statistical charts and scholarly articles, the driver’s complain of manipulation, injustice in the workplace, changing rules, twisted policies and lessening food on our tables. Sprinkling on top higher gas prices and regulatory city policy the driver is beaten into submission. And then we strike, or turn off the app in airports to cause surge pricing (against Uber’s policy.) We find ourselves in uncertain ground and navigate unknown territories. Let’s not forget the veiled threat of self-driving cars also, dangling over our heads, sometime soon when Elon Musk or anyone else sets their vision in exploratory heroism. Add to the equation scooters, bicycles and ever changing types of rides to stress our vulnerabilities. Therefore, we have myriads of issues stock against us. Here is why.

Intra-Group Conflict Amongst Rideshare Drivers

The lack of common understanding of the issues at hand, legally, economically and socially creates terrible management of the conflict within the group of protestors. We strike for better pay. Hold a sign up and scream. Uber laughs. Uber laughs because of the contract we have signed and agreed to. An independent contractor is legally someone who can bid on the price of service but cannot dictate it. The contract states the percentage Uber takes. Since Uber provides the platform under which work becomes available to drivers it controls both the price/pay and the availability of that pay. Therefore, we cannot bid for the price of the ride. Federal law favors employers who provide services and products by protecting them against unionized independent contractors/partners. By protesting, over pay without the understanding of how Uber operates, is futile. We can express our dismay by protest, but cannot change the law that protects these corporations. Additionally, the signed driver’s contract increases Uber’s control to change, amend and differentiate terms as environments change. Lobbying to reform law could be a better protest for drivers.

An independent contractor/partner may be an employee under the following criteria if:

a) Employer defines work hours. Uber as well as Lyft are praised for the independence they provide for their drivers. Turn it on or turn it off, whatever you like if fine with us. Yet, the manipulative part comes with the suggestion of “know when you need to work” early morning rush hour, evening rush hour during weekdays, and afternoons and nights on the weekends. Uber: Hey driver, do you want to make more money? I am not setting your hours but I know you need money. Here are suggested hours to work to make what you need.

b) Employer provides supplies.  There is no supply room, just you and your car and two stickers for the windows. The independence is further conveyed here. They provide nothing you provide the car, the gas, the maintenance of the vehicle. Forgotten in the independence equation is the App, provided by Uber under the “platform” label. The App is the bone marrow of providing supplies. Without the App there is no work.

c) Employer provides long term and the only employment for the independent contractor. Temporary vs. permanent is a thin blue line walked by many corporations to define workers as independent contractors to avoid distributing benefits to them and the government. Are we temporary or permanent? A variable for independence is the turn off, turn on of the App. You can quit, keep on working, protest or combine Uber with other work. But what if, this is your only job? Are you temporary or permanent? How are drivers who have worked for Uber for 5 years classified? Temporary perhaps, because they are free to work as they like? What if they took to heart the work hours suggested by Uber and consistently made the money the need? Are they permanent independent contractors?

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d) The driver performs an essential service. Essential service in this platform is to provide a ride. Although Uber is not a transportation company, transportation is the medium under which their technology operates. What do we do all day and all night? We provide rides.

e) Employer pays an individual. An independent contractor is paid via a business check, via accounts payable, payable to his company. We get paid as individuals. Most of the drivers do not treat their driving as a business and do not get paid via their company and under an EIN number.

f) Employer provides invoices. Each ride is listed within the App. The amount that was charged in total, itemized fees distributed to the driver, as well as Uber. What defines an invoice and under which circumstances is a receipt rather than an invoice? How this definition protects this platform to favor the receipt definition rather than the invoice?

g) The Employer does not have a contract or agreement. And there we have it!  We signed a contract and all the above conditions that looked favorable to makes us employees are a feather in the wind.

Unless we understand how Labor Law, Arbitration and Case Law lawyers have worked the kinks out before even the first ride was performed, we will not unite. We protest and complain emotionally. Legal implications favor them.

Read: California Assembly Bill 5 Moves Uber and Lyft Drivers One Step Closer to Employee Status

Drivers Are Divided By Intra-group and Inter-groups

We are further divided by intra-group and inter-groups. Intra-groups are uninformed, unaware of how this can be done and favored by the court system, federal labor laws and contract law. Inter-groups are those who may be in understanding of what is legally going on, know that a protest may not bring on change, have no time to lobby, organize and create groups of drivers. Consequently, inter-groups turn on the App and go to work.

Drivers Divided By Social and Cultural Origins

We are further divided by social and cultural origins. Immigrants, American born, racially diverse groups, educated, uneducated, new parents, seniors, part timers, full timers, seasonal, college students, single mothers, gig workers. Please think of one time in your lifetime that you have  experienced such diverse groups of people organize and produce viable results and change for the benefit of the this kind of group. Unionizing is essentially illegal, just to add a bit of spice in this soup. Uber laughs and smiles at us for good reason. It is best not to mention funding and leadership that is essential to organize and change law and systems.

Competitive Pricing

Platform operating, such as Uber, further flexes its muscles by competing with other platforms in the marketplace. Competition for the same demand results in price regulation.  Price fixing is illegal so the remedy for that is competition. The way Uber and Lyft compete, and not violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, keeps prices from increasing and our salaries regulated. It also makes the drivers choose one company or the other, or both, as we scrabble to find the rides that pay the highest price. Some drivers only drive for one platform or the other not both. The reason for that is image. Uber assumes the business, reliable, dominant image and Lyft the pink, softer, community concerned, socially correct image. Drivers choose according to the image that appeals the most. Guess what? Riders do the same. The price does not matter to them. And that is competition for drivers and riders. Therefore, more division! Let’s Uber it, has becomes part of the language. Call an Uber is common place.

Supply & Demand

When the App regulates the amount of rides a driver gets (also motivated by quests, setting the mount of rides the driver aims for) and the demand dictated by the consumer who is influenced primarily by image and second by price (which the driver does not control) we are mere rats on a wheel servicing the “machine.” We are essential because of that service, but we are controlled by all the above components making a fight and unification unattractive. This two component formula, supply and demand, is dependent on law, people’s preference and disposable income, desire for the service and a company that developed the App. We are a buffer, a catalyst of a sort, which makes this work.  The demand has proven to be steady and can be supplied for now. In the future we have the possibility of the self-driving car that may, in whole, or in part supply the demand. Jacob Bana’s article for the website www.futurism.com on March 10th, 2019 writes:

“All you need is self-driving cars to destabilize society,” Yang told the New York Times. “That one innovation,” he continued, “will be enough to create riots in the street. And we’re about to do the same thing to retail workers, call center workers, fast-food workers, insurance companies, accounting firms.” If we feel that we are on shaky ground already by these threats to our livelihood, don’t you think we are reluctant to rock the boat? Is this further preventing us from uniting and for sure attempt to take a chance to better the system?

Organizational Psychology – Uber Tiers Their Drivers and Dangles a Delicious Looking Carrot

Along with lawyers, IT developers (algorithms), data metric analysts and economists we will have to add to the mix the organizational psychologist who sits in an office and smiles at the grand plans of the others when he/she very well knows that in order to control masses of drivers all you do is know what the drivers need. Provide for the driver’s basic needs and everything works for the company. Hence, quests, driver incentives, Uber Pro, appreciation rewards, steady weekly income. How do you organize and argue against your own needs as a driver?

Remedies

Sabrina Hersi Issa, human rights technologist and essayist at NBC news (website Think) addresses the Reagan Airport in DC that has experienced drivers turning their App off while at the waiting lot to cause a surge in pricing. Of course, this is retaliation against Lyft and Uber, and against the policies in the contract, radical. Uber already threatened deactivation for drivers who attempt this. Remedies like this are temporary fixes to a Goliath problem. Uber makes it clear we can be replaced. Here are some solutions.

  • Cause a change in labor law that amends the definition of independent contractors relevant to technology companies. Modern advances call for modern laws. In order for that to become real we need a labor attorney and lobbyist who practices like three Bulldogs and bites like a Pitbull. Many non-profits and human rights organizations fund and support causes like this. We can also crowd fund to hire the right lawyers.
  • Create new law that addresses loss of jobs to technology. Imagine there is a national stipend that partially replaces your lost income and is not unemployment. Allowing corporations to create platforms that will eventually gain by using the laws against the worker, also, need to contribute to a fund that will replace the income of the lost jobs in the process. Since we still need food, clothes and pay for services we cannot do that by having a self-driving car, scooter or bicycle replace us. If tech companies still find merit in our replacement they will have to partially compensate us to leave. It will cost them less than having to pay us daily, less insurance during rides and less in legal costs.
  • We need a leader. That leader needs to be the voice of all rideshare drivers, an aware individual who has vision, knowledge, stamina and shares the goals and aspirations of all of us in the industry. Small groups and localized strikes create awareness for the masses via news feeds, but do not change laws and the way corporations do business.
  • Be represented within the platform by community leaders. Awareness of where the platform is going and what it is doing should not be private information but a prerogative for the drivers. Today we are only receiving news and notifications via the App or the news. Yet, there are initiatives in the works we are unaware of. We need to be present in the conference rooms where decisions and plans are made.
  • Terms of Service agreements and Contracts allow collection of data of customers and drivers. We agreed to it when we signed up. Can you guess how much data Uber has on a driver after a year’s worth of work? They know all about you but best of all is how much money you need per week, month and year. They know your habits, needs and how you are willing to fulfill them. That is valuable to Uber. Is it legal for them to gather data on you and then use that data to “guide” you where you are best serving their agenda?
  • Tax law reform needs to specifically address types of 1099 independent contractors, not an old umbrella law applicable to all circumstances that appeared in the 60s. The technological advances and differentiation of 1099 employment has changed. Tax & labor attorneys use old existing laws to be applied in modern situations. The IRS needs acknowledge that gig industries are a different animal and needs to be taxed and accounted for by new applicable laws.

In Conclusion

Uber, in its inception and before it became a public traded giant with valuations into billions, formed a think tank to defy the drivers and apply laws and policies to do it. In order to change the environment in which we are not content with, we need to understand it. They saw the protests, lawsuits and driver dissatisfaction coming, years back. We can unify, but not by holding signs in Any City USA and turning the App off. Every time you find yourself shaking your head about Uber issues you are experiencing think of algorithms, data collection, law, psychology and taxation. The environment has imposed itself on us. We can unity and impose on it. We can use technology to connect, we can find those who are willing to fund the well-being of transportation’s future, we can block injustice in the work place, we can do it. Under one condition, we have to understand how and why it is happening.

What are your thoughts? Are drivers divided? Please comment below:

1 COMMENT

  1. Before Maria Feldman goes and writes a blog post and spouts a bunch of stuff about what makes a contractor or not and talking about AB% then perhaps she should take the time to understand what CALIFORNIA Law and the California supreme court have ruled what a contractor is and is not.
    Like the ABC test they set up and to understand that AB% changes nothing but simply puts into law with teeth the ABC test the court has already ruled on. None of which she lists in her reasons for being or not a contractor.

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