Litigate, Don't Capitulate
April 20, 2015 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Meet the lawyer taking on Uber and the rest of the on-demand economy. Shannon Liss-Riordan has filed lawsuits against five of the largest "sharing economy" start-ups (Uber, Lyft, Homejoy, Postmates, and Caviar), contending that they pay the people who supply the equipment and manpower that power their businesses like independent contractors, while burdening them with the work expectations of employees. Previously.
posted by exogenous (187 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank god this is happening. Uber (and others) cheats, people suffer, and I hope this independent contractor trend finally dies.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:07 AM on April 20, 2015 [47 favorites]


I hope he ruins them. Uber paid off my state to override the city legistlation, so we can't stop them from operating here. It didn't earn them my favor, to put it mildly. It really, really doesn't help that they also paid off someone (cell carrier? Google? Samsung?) to push their accursed app to my phone against my will.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:09 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


If the Fed and state Depts of Labor actually started cracking down on this shit it would be a game changer. This has been going on a lot longer than Uber.
posted by PMdixon at 8:09 AM on April 20, 2015 [35 favorites]


Uber as ideal has my support - an app for piecework, where taxis might be unwilling to go or find it unprofitable to operate.

Uber as reality I'd happily see burn. Let's hope she gets somewhere.
posted by solarion at 8:13 AM on April 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


> I hope he ruins them.
She. Liss-Riordan is a woman.


“Our community cares about flexibility and setting their own hours,” said Fiona Ramsey, the director of communications for Peers, an advocacy group for the on-demand economy. She added: “We worry the share economy will cease to exist if these cases are successful.”

Barf.
posted by rtha at 8:15 AM on April 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


"We worry the share economy will cease to exist if these cases are successful."

GREAT.
posted by solarion at 8:15 AM on April 20, 2015 [64 favorites]


I hope this goes for regular cab drivers as well.
posted by josher71 at 8:19 AM on April 20, 2015


The "sharing economy" needs to die. Drivers are employees, and should have the rights and benefits that go with being an employee. The labor movement should be demanding that these "independent contractor" statuses have to be much more strictly regulated. Unless a person is sending you an invoice for their services on their own letterhead, they're not a contractor.
posted by graymouser at 8:21 AM on April 20, 2015 [28 favorites]


"We worry the share economy will cease to exist if these cases are successful."

No more sharing, people. Kindergarten is canceled.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:31 AM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I have a feeling the state will come down on the side of capital rather than labour. There are simply too many people in too much debt to not work for Uber.
posted by colie at 8:33 AM on April 20, 2015


I hope this goes for regular cab drivers as well.

It seems like that would already be settled law at this point.
posted by smackfu at 8:34 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


The phrase "sharing economy" needs to die.
posted by Slothrup at 8:34 AM on April 20, 2015 [36 favorites]


AWESOME
posted by beefetish at 8:36 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wish that taxi companies would do better, instead of just suing their competition. Uber solves several problems for me with taxi services:
* I can summon a taxi with the smartphone app without having to call an office.
* It's all over the country, so I don't have to worry about finding a local service.
* The app lets me put in the street address of where I'm going, so the driver can follow the GPS instead of asking me for directions.
* It keeps a record of the route we took and sends me an email with a receipt, which I like for dispute resolution
* The tip is worked into the price so I don't have to stress out about how much to tip
* I don't need to carry cash because it just charges it all to a credit card on file.
* I can see how far away the cab is in real time, so I don't have to worry about where the cab is
* And it's much cheaper for me to boot.

Except for the price and the country wide distribution, basically all of the problems here could be solved with GPS devices and decent smartphone integration. If the cab companies started some kind of Taxi Network, they ought to be able to make something as good as Uber. I'd be OK with paying a premium to ensure that cab drivers are being paid fairly.

And I was talking to an Uber driver recently, who had previously been a regular cab driver. This arrangement has advantages for him too: He doesn't have to deal with a grumpy dispatcher or wait for calls to come in; basically as soon as I got out he could have another fare almost instantly. He can set his own hours. And if Time Magazine is to be believed, the drivers actually get more money than a standard taxi driver (although that's offset by cost of wear and tear on their cars).

I'd like better worker protection, but I don't think that the traditional taxi service model is actually any better for anybody.
posted by JDHarper at 8:36 AM on April 20, 2015 [71 favorites]


Several years ago, Boston lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan was visiting family and friends in San Francisco. While she was out at a restaurant in the West Portal, one of her friends pulled out his smartphone. “You have to see this, Shannon. It’s a new thing and it’s changed my life,” she recalls him saying. The friend fired up Uber, the car-hailing app. “You push a button and a car comes to pick you up.”

Then, Liss-Riordan says, her friend looked at her. “He saw what was going through my mind. Then he said, ‘Don’t you dare. You’re going to put them out of business.’”


Bahahahaha. I can only imagine the friend's look of sudden panic, there...
posted by sciatrix at 8:42 AM on April 20, 2015 [30 favorites]


* I can summon a taxi with the smartphone app without having to call an office.
*The tip is worked into the price so I don't have to stress out about how much to tip
* I don't need to carry cash because it just charges it all to a credit card on file.
* I can see how far away the cab is in real time, so I don't have to worry about where the cab is


We're lucky enough to be in a city where Flywheel operates and gets us all the bullet items above. We also have a non-profit car service whom we love and use more often for scheduled things, since they don't have a ton of drivers and are very popular.
posted by rtha at 8:44 AM on April 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


“Our community cares about flexibility and setting their own hours,” said Fiona Ramsey, the director of communications for Peers, an advocacy group for the on-demand economy. She added: “We worry the share economy will cease to exist if these cases are successful.”

More about Peers:
Airbnb paid a for-profit consultancy to start the organization. The cofounder of Peers, actively involved in the day to day operations, is Douglas Atkin, currently also the community manager of Airbnb. Most of Peers' 73 listed partners are for-profit sharing economy companies like Airbnb, Lyft, Sidecar, TaskRabbit and RelayRides—only three are nonprofits.

The organization's major backer is the Omidyar Network, a "philanthropic investment firm" started by the founder of eBay that gives both grants to nonprofits and investments to for-profits. Omidyar Network has been criticized for co-opting and commercializing sharing innovations, like relaunching CouchSurfing, the original lodging-sharing community, as a for-profit company, and promoting for-profit rather than nonprofit models of microfinance lending.

[...]

Peers members are volunteering much of their time fighting local legal battles that benefit the organization's corporate partners: lobbying state lawmakers in New York City to change the hotel laws for Airbnb, gathering petition signatures to get the Seattle city council to permit Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber to operate, turning people out to council meetings in Los Angeles to protect Airbnb's operations there.
posted by Iridic at 8:45 AM on April 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


rtha: Ooh, neat, I didn't know about that service! I'll have to give it a shot when they get to the east coast. That looks like just the kind of thing I'm looking for.
posted by JDHarper at 8:51 AM on April 20, 2015


It's weird for me to want a service I use frequently to stop doing what it is they're doing, but, man Uber has planted me in some really thorny moral territory. On the one hand, regular car service/cabs around me suck in any one of a dozen ways, for the most part. In contrast, Uber cars are clean, they're all licensed, I can watch them arrive, the drivers for the most part know where they're going, etc. But I know the drivers aren't exactly happy with the arrangement (it's different in NYC than most places, however) and I know what the company is doing in other states that bend a little more easily to them than NYC did.

I guess I just wish cab companies that weren't Uber were not also almost universally shitty and that cab drivers got a fair shake. Maybe this will help?
posted by griphus at 8:53 AM on April 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


Montreal's cabbies are dealing with Uber in the city's own inimitable way ...
posted by scruss at 8:54 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sure, Uber is terrible, but nowhere near as bad as the local cab companies. Have you actual SEEN the physical state of a cab driver when they're picking you up from the airport? Even at 10pm, the typical cab driver is barely awake and barely attentive, making me feel uneasy about their ability to drive. Then, after you arrive at your destination they hassle you to pay them with cash instead of a credit card (often times lying about a 'broken' machine that magically works once you tell them you have no cash).

These are the same cab companies that are often structure in such a way as to avoid financial liability for the owners. The same cab companies that never hold themselves accountable to customer feedback, the same cab companies with a local govt. approved monopoly.

I'm no fan of Uber, and in fact tip extra due to my feelings on their price, but the taxi cab industry is way way worse. The fact is that if the cab companies actually had any ability to improve their service they would have utterly decimated uber. Instead, they're spending their resources fighting them in the courts instead of trying to actually outcompete them.
posted by sp160n at 8:55 AM on April 20, 2015 [33 favorites]


I hope this goes for regular cab drivers as well.

That's my thought. I don't see how Uber is any different from traditional Yellow Cabs in this respect. Traditional cab drivers in many cities independent contractors and just rent the cabs from the company for their shift.
posted by octothorpe at 8:56 AM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Sure, Uber is terrible, but nowhere near as bad as the local cab companies.

This too. As terrible as Uber is as a company, they're still better than our local cab company.
posted by octothorpe at 8:57 AM on April 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


Uber is quite awful, but I do hope that surge in the "sharing economy" at least improves the quality of preexisting taxi services, as everyone else is mentioning. I live in Chicago and recently visited Portland, and the standard for... everything is so much better. Sure, it's a much smaller city, but making reservations at restaurants, using public transit, etc. was actually made easier by technology, and not trapped in the dark ages or saddled to stupid, predatory companies with no customer service and the inability to communicate with anyone or thing but a broken website or endless automated telephone call.

Re: taxis, to be honest, I am tired of getting in a taxi, giving them an address, and the driver needing specific instructions on how to get there. I don't know! I don't drive! Either integrate some kind of useful and consistent GPS service or get drivers to actually know where things are. I don't care if you do it with technology or by memory, but you need to be able to do it-- half-relying on sucky technology is a dumb middle road.

Also, "broken" credit card machines and pressure to pay with Square, ughhh.
posted by easter queen at 8:57 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


For all the kvetching about local cab service, in my experience Flywheel (which is available in San Francisco) works at least as well as Uber, and I'm much happier to get into a licensed cab with a licensed driver with an established organization, rules, and liability insurance.
posted by twsf at 9:06 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


The friend fired up Uber, the car-hailing app. “You push a button and a car comes to pick you up.”

Then, Liss-Riordan says, her friend looked at her. “He saw what was going through my mind. Then he said, ‘Don’t you dare. You’re going to put them out of business.’”
I don't understand how, immediately after seeing a taxi hailing app, the lawyer made the leap to 'put them out of business'
I get the criticism of "the sharing economy" but at that point it was just her initial interaction with an taxi hailing app
posted by mulligan at 9:08 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


This will surprise absolutely nobody, but the comments under TFA are like the perfect Libertarian Comment Bingo card. Superb.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:10 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


More than a few of my recent Uber drivers have been taxi drivers that made the switch to Uber full time. From their point of view the customers are better, they don't get stiffed for fares, they're not scared of getting robbed, they can tell when they're going to pick up a problem customer since customers are rated too, etc. Not a single one of them had a good thing to say about taxi companies.

From my point of view I get someone I don't have to give directions to, every vehicle I've been in has been safe and clean, the drivers are attentive, I can see someone's rating, and if they're truly shitty they don't work for the company anymore. I can use a credit card without it being a huge ordeal.

Uber is a company run by shitbags, no doubt, but someone needs to fill the space. As the lesser of two evils though I think the taxi companies are worse. Flywheel is a great idea and all, but I feel much better about most Uber drivers than most taxi drivers. I'll occasionally take a taxi home from BART and it's usually a miserable experience. Dashboards lit up like a Christmas tree, mystery stains everywhere, having to give instructions to my house that's less than a mile away and on a major intersection, the whole thing is awful.

My fundamental concern with the sharing economy is wondering how long it'll be before some side money becomes something necessary to get by. Do rents go up because landlords now expect you to rent out an extra room on Airbnb? Do car payments climb because you're now expected to drive people in your off hours?
posted by mikesch at 9:14 AM on April 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


Uber is the Blackwater of the 'new economy'.
posted by Flashman at 9:14 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Uber has enabled me to get rid of my car. I walk to work and just go to the grocery store/shopping center once a week or every other week.

All of my drivers seem really happy.

The cabs around here are frightening. You call A-1 Tax Cab and something that says City Cab pulls up - if they show up at all. You don't know your driver's name, there's no record of your trip, there's puke or something on the floor, and they bitch about having to drive you ANYWHERE like it's not their fucking JOB to drive you. That confuses me the most. AND THEN they drive so fucking fast I have thought for sure I was going to be in accident several times.

I love Uber and hope they can fix their business practices to treat their employees better. Our mass transit here sucks (busses don't run after 5, even on Saturdays. Seriously. And on Sundays - no busses at all!)
posted by sio42 at 9:15 AM on April 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


All the supposed benefits of Uber that are being posted are things that are only economical because the costs are shifted, in a law-skirting way, onto the person who is physically providing you with a service. Their cars aren't cleaner than the taxis because drunk assholes never puke in them, but because they are doing unpaid labor to keep them clean to Uber's standards. The point is that someone should be paid for that labor. The "independent contractor" status pushes that onto the driver as unpaid time. And that should, straight up, be illegal.
posted by graymouser at 9:22 AM on April 20, 2015 [106 favorites]


Thing is that cab drivers almost always are independent contractors. That's why they can take jobs from multiple dispatch companies. As employees they can get locked in into only one company and thus won't be able to receive enough jobs.
posted by I-baLL at 9:26 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Eh, I should've prefixed that with "As far as I'm aware"
posted by I-baLL at 9:26 AM on April 20, 2015


All the supposed benefits of Uber that are being posted are things that are only economical because the costs are shifted, in a law-skirting way, onto the person who is physically providing you with a service.


We have a list we can look at:

I can summon a taxi with the smartphone app without having to call an office.
* It's all over the country, so I don't have to worry about finding a local service.
* The app lets me put in the street address of where I'm going, so the driver can follow the GPS instead of asking me for directions.
* It keeps a record of the route we took and sends me an email with a receipt, which I like for dispute resolution
* The tip is worked into the price so I don't have to stress out about how much to tip
* I don't need to carry cash because it just charges it all to a credit card on file.
* I can see how far away the cab is in real time, so I don't have to worry about where the cab is
* And it's much cheaper for me to boot.


The last one is the one that stands out as being a result of unpaid labor somewhere. The other ones listed do not, but I might be missing something.
posted by josher71 at 9:28 AM on April 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


Uber, and those like it, is a scheme to avoid paying employment taxes and deductions. That's how they compete against traditional companies. They pay 30% to 50% less per worker than a traditional employee. That's why Uber is cheaper, tax and benefit avoidance.

My employer got called on a very similar scheme about 10 years ago. No new hires, just a raft of "contractors" doing core business work. When they lost the first court case, the practice was stopped, however, there is an amazing amount of litigation still going on about it.
posted by bonehead at 9:28 AM on April 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


I spent a long weekend using nothing but Uber. I have qualms about the piecemeal economy, but every driver I tried in perhaps four different categories of service said they really liked being able to sign in and out of work whenever, and that the customers at their worst (drunk and leaving a bar Friday night) tended to be better than taxi customers at their worst.

I can't discount that Uber probably gives drivers talking points, that drivers may fear retribution if something negative they say comes back, and I'm only hearing from the ones who weren't booted from Uber, but with all of those caveats, I was still surprised at the level of satisfaction expressed.
posted by zippy at 9:31 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


The whole "but taxis suck" derail is missing the point entirely. Of course they do. Of course Uber is better in tons of ways with respect to the customer experience.

The problem is that Uber is taking advantage of a really shady labor arrangement. We've lost almost all sense of moral outrage at companies fucking over their labor in this country, and it's despicable. Sharing Economy my ass.
posted by odinsdream at 9:31 AM on April 20, 2015 [83 favorites]


if they show up at all. You don't know your driver's name, there's no record of your trip, there's puke or something on the floor, and they bitch about having to drive you ANYWHERE like it's not their fucking JOB to drive you.

I'm fascinated by where all you guys are finding all these terrible cabs! My experience has always been, you hail a cab (in New York), or you call a cab (most other places) or just get in the cab at the airport, and you tell them where you want to go, and they take you there, and you're done. There used to be some cabs that didn't take credit cards, which was annoying, but it's been years since I've run into that.

Uber is very useful in situations where you're in an unfamiliar city, and thus can't describe where you are, and you aren't in a downtown core where there's going to be cabs streaming by. Even then, though, there's the annoyance of the "time to pickup" and "time to destination" markers on the app, which in my experience are entirely fictional. Of course, it amounts to the same as a cab -- you don't know exactly how long it'll take you to get there -- but it's somehow more annoying when your phone is presenting you with a precise number of minutes which is just not true.

That said, the Uber drivers have always been nice in my experience, just as nice as cab drivers, and they don't display any resentment about driving for Uber.
posted by escabeche at 9:32 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Have you actual SEEN the physical state of a cab driver when they're picking you up from the airport?

I think this is will vary a lot from location to location. Twin Cities cabs can be remarkably grungy, and some drivers have no idea where they're going. Not universal--some drivers are great--but a clueless driver happens often enough to be worrying.

I rode in a wonderful cab late last year, in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Smooth, comfortable, spotlessly clean, elegant, almost a limo experience. However, they seem to have an effective near-monopoly on airport transit there (at the moment there's no mass transit to the terminal, that might be changing shortly), and they're not cheap.

A bigger cab service disrupter in Minneapolis could be Car2Go. They seem to be getting much of the middle-class market for short-term trips around here. If they ever get a drop-off facility at the airport (I've heard rumors about this, but nothing substantial), I might never get in a cab in the Twin Cities ever again.

Even better, extend rail or trolley transit to my house (that often-promised line up Central Avenue, maybe), and I'll get myself to the airport for a standard transit fare.

I might still worry about carless people who need cabs--or some kind of car--for urgent situations. My use case is mostly "get me to the airport". If I'm not a revenue generator for the system anymore, what happens to people who need to get their kids to urgent care, don't have a car, can't sign up for Car2Go, etc.?

Maybe it circles back to the question: why do we keep building cities that are so car-dependent?
posted by gimonca at 9:33 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm fascinated by where all you guys are finding all these terrible cabs!

Baltimore is very nice this time of year.
posted by josher71 at 9:35 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Maybe the Uber drivers seem friendly and happy because if they didn't, their passengers might give them a low star rating, which kind of sucks for the drivers.
posted by exogenous at 9:35 AM on April 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


Pre Uber, in Chicago, trying to call a cab (not hail one, so anywhere outside the loop and the lakeshore), my experience was universal frustration of a cut rate Waiting for Godot variety. Every single time, I would have to call at least twice. The cars were not in good condition, and I had to backseat navigate my entire trip. The last part still happens sometimes, but with Uber I at least know a car will show up eventually. That was not a given.
posted by PMdixon at 9:37 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm fascinated by where all you guys are finding all these terrible cabs!

Every single place I've ever lived or visited that's not New York or Tokyo. And I've never had an Uber driver not want to take me somewhere because it's too far, or get upset at being inconvenienced because I needed to go through midtown at rush hour. Or flat out want me to drop me off a few blocks from where I needed to go because it was easier on them traffic-wise.
posted by mikesch at 9:44 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


The pre-Uber scenario for cab use here in Pittsburgh used to be: call the dispatcher, wait on hold, finally reach someone, be given a 30 minute arrival time, wait 45 minutes, call back, be told that the driver will be there in another 30 minutes, rinse and repeat until you give up and walk home or call a friend.
posted by octothorpe at 9:50 AM on April 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


The cars were not in good condition

This is another case of Uber passing costs downstream: the vehicular maintenance is no longer the responsibility of the company providing you the ride, but something passed on to the driver at their own expense.

It's not a question of whether taxi service is perfect, and in fact it's not about traditional taxi service at all. It's about the tax dodge and the unpaid labor/costs that go on as an intentional result of Uber's business model. That's unethical, even if you like the result that it provides, it needs to be provided in a way that doesn't dodge the protections that society has put in place for employees being exploited by their employers. Diverting the question from ethics to quality of service is straight up awful if you think of the broader implications.
posted by graymouser at 9:51 AM on April 20, 2015 [25 favorites]


The criticism of Uber's employment practices here is somewhat insulting to Uber's drivers, who all voluntarily chose working for Uber over working for a cab company, a car service, or not working at all. It's a bit patronizing to say that they all made the wrong choice by working for Uber. If there actually was a compelling argument against Uber's payment of drivers, than either every other car service is worse (which is possible, but results in misplaced criticism of Uber) or every driver who works for Uber is a moron who can't figure out how to work for a better employer.

If you get rid of Uber, you end up with the next-best alternative. In most cities, that will result in cab companies (which a large number of Uber drivers decided were worse to work for than Uber) or nothing (from which a large number of Uber drivers came from, because Uber allowed those drivers to work on their own schedule for the first time). Is that really an improvement?
posted by saeculorum at 9:53 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


The whole "but taxis suck" derail is missing the point entirely.

It is, but in a way it's not. Of course it's outrageous that companies are getting away with treating labor like it's some kind of privilege, and it's a cancer in almost every industry. But most of the people I know who use Uber regularly don't do so because it's so cheap, they do so because the service is so convenient, safe, clean, and comparatively modern. The article is pretty realistic about the fact that all of the kvetching about "Uber will be DESTROYEDDD" really means "Uber's profit margins will shrink somewhat." If that leads to a lack of interest from venture capitalists that truly punctures the industry, I guess they're right, but that is speculation-- I don't see any reason why they couldn't operate like a legitimate business, besides greed. Maybe it won't be as exciting and bleeding edge without the booming growth, but if it were a slightly less profitable, more premium service, I think it still has a place, and it would be a cool part of the 21st century economy.
posted by easter queen at 9:53 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm fascinated by where all you guys are finding all these terrible cabs!

Brooklyn. Here is an incomplete list of things I have experienced while inside a cab (which of course presumes the cab arrived and I didn't have to call dispatch a half-dozen times, get hung up on three of those, put on hold indefinitely for two, and get told that the cab is 5 minutes away by the guy that picked up who had no idea who or where I was):

-Driver got lost, got angry, and drove the car over a concrete lane divider to do the most illegal u-turn I've ever seen.
-Driver spent the ride eating a chicken drumstick from a glass bowl he gently rested between the steering wheel and his stomach
-Driver honked and possibly catcalled a woman on the street while I was in the car
-Driver spent the entire ride singing gospel with the radio(admittedly she sang v. well but she totally missed a turn because she was so into it)
-"Okay, I don't know how to get there so you'll need to guide me. Where do we turn?"
-Until I told him he missed a turn, driver was convinced I lived on the Belt Parkway, an isolated coastal highway.

This does not at all include the unlicensed cabs asking me to get in the front, the smoking and assorted other scents, the guys with clearly a bit of a buzz going etc.
posted by griphus at 9:56 AM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Oh also there was the guy I got twice who had some very interesting theories on future events he had divined from the Book of Revelations but tbh I liked that guy.
posted by griphus at 9:57 AM on April 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


The criticism of Uber's employment practices here is somewhat insulting to Uber's drivers, who all voluntarily chose working for Uber over working for a cab company, a car service, or not working at all.

That is awful logic. It justifies sweatshops, starvation wages, and all kinds of labor abuse because it's "voluntary." A lot of people choose between multiple bad options because they need to eat and put food over their heads. That doesn't mean that their choices are "voluntary" and that people who want to change those conditions are insulting them. Uber drivers are workers who are being mis-classified and as such subjected to wage theft (via taxes that they are paying instead of Uber) and, through Uber's enforcement of its rules for "contractors," are actually doing substantial unpaid labor and performing un-reimbursed maintenance on their vehicles.

I am against Uber's business model because I don't want to work under it, and I don't want it to be the future because I don't want my daughter to work under it when she is older either. The more corporations can get away with this kind of shit, the more they can pass these costs along to workers and make things worse for everyone. "An injury to one is an injury to all" isn't just a nice phrase, it's the reality of how the work world functions.
posted by graymouser at 10:01 AM on April 20, 2015 [105 favorites]


I hope she's successful in getting Uber to improve its treament of its [employees|contractors|third-thing-which-is-not-quite-either]. At the same time, I very much hope Uber is able to thrive as a business after making those changes.

Indianapolis has, to put it lightly, really crappy public transportation. And it has low cab density. Outside of the airport and maybe a small core area downtown, you're unlikely to be able to hail a cab off the street. Indianapolis is not a friendly city for the carless.

I do have a car, but still have reason to find other transportation maybe once or twice a year. I live way out in the far suburbs, and if I want a traditional cab, I have to call at least an hour in advance. If it's critical I be somewhere on time, I'd best make a reservation the previous day. This is not an exaggeration.

Since Uber has come to Indianapolis, I've never had to wait more than 15 minutes at my home for an Uber pickup. That alone makes it a godsend. In my case, I don't think it's even any cheaper than traditional cabs, and I'd gladly pay more. But I don't want it to go away.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:01 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


graymouser,

I don't get your points. It's not "unethical" to have someone keep their own car clean or maintain their own vehicle on their own dime. If I drove for Uber five hours a week, why should Uber undertake the maintenance of my vehicle? It's an entirely voluntary arrangement that benefits both sides and that both sides are free to dissolve. A higher authority does not have to subsidize the driver any more than I would expect that, were I to sell hotdogs off a cart on the street, someone else should have to keep my cart clean and my propane stocked.
posted by the sobsister at 10:03 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


A lot of people choose between multiple bad options because they need to eat and put food over their heads.

Yes, this is true. It is then the case that Uber is the least-worst option for all of the drivers Uber employs. Get rid of Uber, and those drivers will be forced to move to the next-worst alternative.

That's not an improvement - that's an insult to those drivers.
posted by saeculorum at 10:04 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I live in Chicago...I am tired of getting in a taxi, giving them an address, and the driver needing specific instructions on how to get there.

Needing, or just asking? I used to get irritated by this, too, until my girlfriend informed me that they are supposed to ask you, per regulations. I haven't actually been able to verify this, though, with a couple of minutes Googling time, so take it with a grain of salt.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:04 AM on April 20, 2015


It's not "unethical" to have someone keep their own car clean or maintain their own vehicle on their own dime

It is unethical when someone's business model is based on profiting from that maintenance. Their maintenance of the vehicle they are using for Uber is work; it takes time from their day, probably more than you'd think if they are transporting random strangers about. People doing work deserve to be paid for that labor. See easter queen's comment above that talks about how people use Uber because it is "convenient, safe, clean, and comparatively modern." That doesn't happen without work, and I think workers deserve to be paid for it.

And the price of Uber is, effectively, being subsidized by the fact that they are avoiding paying taxes and pushing other tax responsibilities onto their so-called "contractors." That's a form of wage theft. Again, unethical.
posted by graymouser at 10:08 AM on April 20, 2015 [42 favorites]


Yes, this is true. It is then the case that Uber is the least-worst option for all of the drivers Uber employs. Get rid of Uber, and those drivers will be forced to move to the next-worst alternative.

The solution is to make all the alternatives better, not to make apologies for the one they're currently at.
posted by graymouser at 10:09 AM on April 20, 2015 [24 favorites]


Get rid of Uber, and those drivers then move to the next-worst alternative.

The big shot lawyer in the article made Starbucks and FedEx change their business practices to be more fair to employees that were being wrongly classified. That did not 'get rid of' Starbucks and FedEx. Uber's not going anywhere, but maybe if their employment practices change their drivers' situations will improve.
posted by peeedro at 10:10 AM on April 20, 2015 [37 favorites]


So, Uber drivers should be paid for the five minutes they might spend vacuuming the back seat or cleaning the windows? Ummm..okay, no. I know that this sort of thing is huge in the plaintiffs bar—should workers be compensated for the five minutes it takes them to don and doff work overalls and boots? But it's ultimately trivial—and, I would argue, in the case of Uber, inappropriate—particularly compared with the larger issues involved with contractor arrangements, e.g., the person who (mis)treats me at the hospital is not actually an employee of the hospital, y'see, for liability purposes...
posted by the sobsister at 10:14 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


People in this thread need to make sure that they read all the way to the last sentence in the article:

“Uber and Lyft can survive classifying drivers as employees,” she says. “It might cost them a little more, but it’s a successful concept. It’s not going to go away because we are trying to enforce the rules.”
posted by jonp72 at 10:15 AM on April 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


So, Uber drivers should be paid for the five minutes they might spend vacuuming the back seat or cleaning the windows?

At least around here, the difference in quality between Uber and non-Uber cars is enough to make it vividly clear it's a non-trivial amount of labor to keep them in shape.
posted by griphus at 10:16 AM on April 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


So, Uber drivers should be paid for the five minutes they might spend vacuuming the back seat or cleaning the windows?

And for cleaning puke out after they take some rowdy drunks home, and for any other work they have to do. In an employment scenario, that's easy: you are on the clock if you're doing work tasks. If it takes five minutes, then yes, that seems minor. But what about when it takes an hour or two? Should that be free?
posted by graymouser at 10:18 AM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's not "unethical" to have someone keep their own car clean or maintain their own vehicle on their own dime. If I drove for Uber five hours a week, why should Uber undertake the maintenance of my vehicle? It's an entirely voluntary arrangement that benefits both sides and that both sides are free to dissolve.

So if all the options a potential driver has is as an "independent contractor", how is this voluntary? That's the falicy in that line of argument: choice. I suppose there is a choice in working or not, eating or starving, but is that the only option potential drivers should have?

I was in that boat for the first five years of my working life. I actually got paid less take home when I got out of it, but it made a huge difference when I considered the tax and insurance costs I was expected to pay. These arrangements can look very superficially attractive to employees up front, mostly because of deferred expenses and taxes, but it's always the employee who ends up subsidising the lower prices. The cheaper fare between Uber and a regular taxi service is coming out of the driver's own 401k, mostly.
posted by bonehead at 10:19 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


If a cab driver accepts jobs from Lyft, Uber, and a local black cab company, then whose job is it to pay for the maintenance of his cab which he owns?
posted by I-baLL at 10:22 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uber's not going anywhere, but maybe if their employment practices change their drivers' situations will improve.

This is the important point. Uber is not going to meet its wildly optimistic growth projections or give the venture capitalists the high multiple on their initial investment that they've been expecting, but all the hue and cry about "What will I do without my Uber?" is completely overblown.
posted by jonp72 at 10:25 AM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Since Uber has come to Indianapolis, I've never had to wait more than 15 minutes at my home for an Uber pickup.

To be fair, I've never had to wait more than 0 minutes at my home for a cab pickup, because the cab company lets me order my cab in advance online. As far as I can tell, Uber/Lyft have no mechanism for doing this, because they have no way of knowing what drivers will be available when. But again, all that's saying is that "home to the airport" isn't one of the use cases the service is designed for.
posted by escabeche at 10:25 AM on April 20, 2015


If a cab driver accepts jobs from Lyft, Uber, and a local black cab company, then whose job is it to pay for the maintenance of his cab which he owns?

Wouldn't he be driving a car owned by the black cab company for them? I don't think he'd be allowed to use that same car for Lyft and Uber.
posted by griphus at 10:26 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Shouldn't the Uber driver have an icon on their phone to report the passenger that "pukes" or does other damage to their car and have Uber address the costs with the irresponsible rider?

The point about a 5 min vacuum seems trivial but most legitimate contractors include overhead into their billings and that's why actual contractors generally have a higher rate than employees. If a Uber driver is 40+ hours a week for a full year shouldn't Uber be paying into unemployment insurance? Lots of legitimate issues here.
posted by sammyo at 10:27 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Okay, I don't know how to get there so you'll need to guide me. Where do we turn?"

Why would this be any different with a ride-sharing service? In my experience, they also don't know how to get there; they have a GPS, just like your cab driver, and it gives them turn-by-turn. If anything, my experience has been that taxi drivers, who do it for a living, are more likely to know where to go without checking the GPS, while my rideshare drivers have been evenly split between pro drivers who know their way around and freelancers who are making some extra money with their car but who don't know the city map any better than I do.
posted by escabeche at 10:29 AM on April 20, 2015


Wouldn't he be driving a car owned by the black cab company for them? I don't think he'd be allowed to use that same car for Lyft and Uber.

My Uber driver last week did Uber, Lyft and Caviar, she just responded to whichever assigned her a job first (and her car smelled delicious since the last delivery was from an Indian place). Same thing though, who pays for maintenance and cleaning?
posted by mikesch at 10:29 AM on April 20, 2015


her car smelled delicious since the last delivery was from an Indian place

I thought the whole point of Uber was that the car wasn't supposed to smell "ethnic"!
posted by escabeche at 10:30 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


JDHarper

I believe Curb does everything you're looking for also. I've been using it for years, back when it was Taxi Magic.
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:35 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's the proverbial cost of doing business. Aside from the fact that bad Uber passengers can be flagged for future reference, it simply comes down to the fact that, yes, sometimes when you operate your own business—as these drivers are essentially doing, albeit without most of the ancillary costs of small-business ownership—you have to put in uncompensated time to make your place of business attractive and functional. No one pays the owner of the shop down the street to hose down her sidewalk or clean her windows or sweep out her store.
posted by the sobsister at 10:36 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


In Canada there's a class-action lawsuit against one of the biggest auditing/financial firms in the world because of misclassifying workers. This shit is hitting the "professional class" and it needs stopping.

the sobsister, these workers aren't small business owners. That's kind of the point of the lawsuit. Uber isn't a network of independent owners using a common app. They are hiring people.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:40 AM on April 20, 2015 [29 favorites]


If you want to hear drivers talk about the downside of uber, read the reviews of uberpartner, the app the drivers use.
posted by zippy at 10:41 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


The pre-Uber scenario for cab use here in Pittsburgh used to be: call the dispatcher, wait on hold, finally reach someone, be given a 30 minute arrival time, wait 45 minutes, call back, be told that the driver will be there in another 30 minutes, rinse and repeat until you give up and walk home or call a friend.

Uber drivers could be clubbing baby seals in the passenger seat and they are still light years ahead of Pittsburgh cabs.
posted by splen at 10:42 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Needing, or just asking?

In my case, seems to be needing-- they clearly need step-by-step instructions and have a lot of confusion about where I'm going, especially where I live-- but thank you for telling me this, because if it's true I'll be a lot less exasperated about it in the future.
posted by easter queen at 10:43 AM on April 20, 2015


In my experience, they also don't know how to get there; they have a GPS, just like your cab driver, and it gives them turn-by-turn.

No, I mean, the driver had no GPS and had no idea where the address I gave him was. He needed me to act as the GPS which I couldn't really do for a number of reasons. Uber drivers, by default, have GPSes.

He also went the wrong way up a one-way street.
posted by griphus at 10:48 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


And for cleaning puke out after they take some rowdy drunks home, and for any other work they have to do.

Uber riders are charged a cleaning fee for vomit. I'm in agreement with you on the general case, but I don't think the specific example of puke illustrates it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:49 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Wouldn't he be driving a car owned by the black cab company for them? I don't think he'd be allowed to use that same car for Lyft and Uber"

Not in most cases. In most cases drivers either drive their own cars or they rent a car from the taxi company. This is what baffles me about this whole "independent contractors vs employees" thing as most cab drivers that I've seen are independent contractors sincem ost of them don't want to be locked into one cab company as it limits how many jobs they get.
posted by I-baLL at 10:50 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


So, Uber drivers should be paid for the five minutes they might spend vacuuming the back seat or cleaning the windows?

Yes. It's a requirement of the job, so they deserve to get paid.
posted by aspo at 10:50 AM on April 20, 2015 [11 favorites]




I'm all for personal transportation drivers being treated as real employees but it needs to cover all cases, such as traditional cabs. Maybe there is a middle ground as the judge in the Lyft case, said. However, I have no idea what that would look like.
posted by josher71 at 10:51 AM on April 20, 2015


Yes. It's a requirement of the job, so they deserve to get paid.

There are lots of these things out there that people don't get paid for that end up being requirements for your job. Dry cleaning your suit if a suit is required for your job for instance. I think that's bullshit but it's not uncommon.
posted by josher71 at 10:52 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


In most cases drivers either drive their own cars or they rent a car from the taxi company.

Huh, that hasn't really been my experience, but I guess cab service differs across jurisdictions. Just about anywhere I've got to outside of NYC, cab drivers drove company-branded cars. I'm not sure how their employment worked, but it seemed like they'd definitely get into shit driving a AAA Cab Company car as an independent operator through Uber.
posted by griphus at 10:52 AM on April 20, 2015


Uber and Lyft both deal with the market AS IT EXISTS, rather than an overly regulated and bloated medallion/hack license system. They provide a service for a reasonable (to all parties) cost with a minimum of bureaucratic meddling. Same kinda deal with AirBnB. It is a more limber, direct way of dealing with demands for services. Lawyers getting involved is just ridiculous. These are the rare examples of the free market actually working; why dick with it?
posted by holybagel at 10:54 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Seems to me that a lot of the employee protections being circumvented by expanding the definition of "contractor" would become a lot less important if we had a real government safety net.
posted by Schrodinger's Gat at 10:55 AM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Uber riders are charged a cleaning fee for vomit. I'm in agreement with you on the general case, but I don't think the specific example of puke illustrates it.

But who gets that cleaning fee -- Uber or the driver?
posted by knownassociate at 10:55 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes. It's a requirement of the job, so they deserve to get paid.

So, should I be paid for the time it takes to shine my shoes for work? How about the time it takes me to go pick up my work suits from the dry cleaners? My employer does require a certain level of appearance, so where does one draw the line at Shit One Does for Work Just Because One Needs to Do It and No, You're Not Getting Paid for It?
posted by the sobsister at 10:57 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Last week I was at a conference where we heard horror stories about the financing side of Uber. What's the financing side, you ask? It's the auto loan business Uber pushes its drivers to utilize.

As I understand it, you have to have a relatively new car to drive for Uber. But many of their drivers don't have good credit. So Uber offers to cosign the loan. But the terms are extremely predatory. Try 25% interest. And you get charged if you use the car for non-Uber travel. And you have to pay back at least 80% of the loan while working for Uber (so no looking for a better job until the car is paid off). They deduct the car payment from your pay, so you can end up paying them to work if you don't have enough high profit rides.

Furthermore, after self-employment and other taxes (which many drivers don't know they owe until they file for the first time), wages are turning out to be as low as $2/hour.
posted by postel's law at 11:01 AM on April 20, 2015 [48 favorites]


These are the rare examples of the free market actually working; why dick with it?

How badly off do you want your neighbours to be? What kind of society do you want, stratified one with rigid professional and working castes?

The cheapest solution would be for Uber to bring in indentured labourers from off-shore and pay less than $10/day, while keeping them in camps. It works in Dubai, it could work in NY too.
posted by bonehead at 11:02 AM on April 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


Is Uber different in the UK from America?

All the drivers I have spoken to seem cheerful enough, all the minicab drivers I have ever met or heard of were already independent contractors (who struggled to get insurance because of the work), as are the black cab drivers in London.

I have read about some of the horrible things that Uber do working with car finance companies (on AskMe, I think), but does that go on in the UK too?
posted by fizban at 11:02 AM on April 20, 2015


I'm curious about the example given where Fedex now contracts with corportations rather than 1099 individuals.

I know someone who applied for a job -- as in answered a job ad or something on monster etc. -- and got the job. Once he got the "job" they told him that they would pay for him to incorporate himself, which he did. Then the company signed a contract with the newly formed corporation which required them to hire him (specifically by name) to do work X, Y, and Z. Essentially he is their employee -- goes to work at their office every day etc. -- but legally he is no one's employee. He's living off a corporation that he owns (because no, he doesn't pay himself a salary from his corporation, he takes it as profit).

So besides not having the protections of an employee (overtime etc.), the company that "hired him" really has no obligations at all to him -- not even minimum wage laws apply. And on the other side, his corporation isn't paying any sort of payroll taxes or benefits either. Nobody is paying anything and there is essentially no employee protection here. No entitlement to benefits. No entitlement to severance or pay in lieu of notice when the work ends. And since the income is taken as profit not earned income, it's taxed at a lower rate. And even that is after all the deductions for car expenses, and anything else that one could conceivably call a corporate expense, which of course is a corporate cost and not counted as part of the profit.

Yeah, I would love to see the government go after this arrangement. The company is stiffing him of protections and they're both stiffing us (the public) of money that they should be paying in taxes.

So yeah, I'm suspicious of whether "we only hire corporations" is really any better.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:04 AM on April 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


So, I worked for a local delivery company that had both car courier and local package delivery divisions, and I was working for them when they decided that the best business decision they could make for themselves was to stop having any drivers that were employees and push them all to become independent contractors.

The first thing that happened was that about 1/4 of the trained workers bailed. They didn't want to be ICs, period. Between the paperwork and record keeping required to be an effective 1099-filing contractor and the added liability and the loss of benefits, a lot of the more capable people just bailed in the month between the announcement was made and and "employees" were terminated and IC contracts were signed.

Once that top 25% of workers had walked away, the second thing that happened was that the company entirely divested itself of its fleet of cars and vans used for delivery. They had to do this, because every driver working for them was driving a vehicle owned by the company, and if the company wanted to continue operations with any of the workforce it still had in place, they required vehicles to fulfill their new contracts. Most of these vehicles had been ridden hard and put away wet for years; they were all high mileage and had been used mostly for city driving, with all the wear-and-tear you can assume went along with that. Most of the people who were signing contracts were also buying vehicles from the company, and so they entered their contracts already in debt, because payments for the previously-company-owned vehicles that they had been driving already were written into the contracts and were deducted from their bi-weekly payout.

The next thing that happened was that the in-house mechanic lost his job. Because he had been hired to work in-house on a company-owned fleet. There was a short period of time between the drivers being converted from employees to ICs that he was still working there, with the company the drivers were contracted with trying to keep track of highly skilled and rapid on-demand work this mechanic was doing to keep the abused fleet on the road and bill the contractors accordingly for this service. It proved to be unfeasible and so the mechanic was let go. There were trickle-down effects from this that affected the smooth operation of business, like drivers having to make appointments for vehicle repairs, second vehicles (either owned or rented) being required to be available to drivers who have contracts to fulfill, drivers having contracts cancelled if they had a major breakdown and were unable to afford repairs and/or supply a backup car to fulfill their contracts...

The chain of events continued. ICs are, according to law (not sure if it's state or federal), entirely NOT allowed to be treated like employees. In any way. So, in order to try to find some legal cover, a locking door with a passthrough window was installed between the warehouse where all the contractors staged their routes for delivery and the rest of the building that was for employees. The break room (with tables and chairs to sit at, and a fridge and sink and microwave and coffeemaker), and the restrooms further inside the building, and the copy machine and the fax machine and the telephones, these were all entirely locked off from access by the contractors, because allowing them to use any of these facilities in the building which they were required to come to in order to fulfill their contracts was giving them amenities similar to or equivalent to those given employees, and any semblance of employee status was an opening that contractors could use to sue (under many of the same legal concepts being used by the lawyer in the article from the FPP) to declare they were, in fact, not contractors at all, but were employees deserving of all the back pay and compensation due to them.

I could go on and on with all the ripples that this transition from employees to ICs had on the company. Courier routes and package delivery routes that had previously been run according to company schedule started sliding and slipping as contractors took on new contracts (as they should be welcome to do, being as they are separate companies who are only doing work for this one company as one client amongst many). Drivers demanded and got a change in the contract payout from being a flat rate per day to being paid by the stop or by the piece being delivered. (This required an entirely new layer of record keeping within the company so they could verify the submitted invoices from the contractors against the records the company itself had about what deliveries had been made.) As vehicles in the aging, previously uniform in appearance, now sold-off company fleet began to die, contractors were buying whatever vehicle they could afford in order to keep their contract fulfilled and keep getting paid. This led to would be politely called "a downgrade in public presence and branding" for the company who held all the contracts, because the replacement IC vehicles were just tools used to get work done.

At first the company was still requiring that the ICs wear company-branded shirts as a work uniform. That fell away quickly when it became obvious that requiring that certain clothing be worn was something that was easy with employee status, but not so much if you're just handing work off to contractors. When the break room and restrooms were locked off from the contractors, another wave of contractors quit (broke their contracts, several of them with lawyers attached to the process), which left the company struggling to fulfill their agreements with their clients. Because if you have ICs doing all the work, you can't have even one single in-house employee doing duplicate work (i.e. covering a broken contract) even for a limited amount of time, because the legal ramifications could open a door to having all the ICs sue to be regarded as employees again.

I left the company for reasons unreleated to the employee-to-IC conversion about 2 years after it happened. By the time I left, there was an employee devoted full-time to interfacing with the contractors about petty issues that had never been an issue and to tracking the work invoiced by the ICs. This was a position that had never existed in the company before, a full level of small business bureaucracy (even when all the drivers were employees, the size of the business was under 50 employees) that required a devoted person.

At this point, approaching a decade after this whole thing, the company has moved away from having contractors to having employees. Having someone on the clock that you can tell what to do during the time they are on the clock without them saying "well, that's going to cost you $X if you want it done" is much less of a headache than having to negotiate every small thing. The lack of uniformity amongst the delivery fleet and the drivers' appearances was beginning to cause clients to lose trust with the company. The lack of reliability that routes would be run according to the timetable desired by the company (which they have no right to dictate if they are hiring contractors) was losing them client contracts.

But mostly, from what I have learned from former and current contacts within this company that I still maintain, it was the sheer headache. If you are truly following IC law, there is nothing about the experience downstream that you are legally allowed to dictate. If you want your business to exist as a middleman (B), connecting those with work that wants to be done (A) with those willing to do the work (C), and you want to establish a set of rules that says what the experience between client A and A's customer D is, the exact way NOT to do that is to try to set yourself up as company B who then contracts with C and makes a list of rules about how C may operate their business in order to keep B happy with A because they never get complaints from D.

This was my experience of being in a company that went from employees to ICs from the management side. It was a giant headache, was full of pitfalls, was continually involved with stripping away basic human amenities (restrooms?) from the humans that were being paid to do the work, and it created a layer of record keeping that had previously not been a part of the company. In the end, the company realized that having employees was better for the company in the long term, and so they went back.

This was for what is commonly considered a "small business" in modern legal parlance. I have no idea how these things work if they get scaled up toward Truly Big Business. My suspicions are, regardless of the size of the business involved, ICs end up getting screwed. I wish this lawyer and her clients (I believe I first heard about her and her legal actions on the excellent podcast Life Of The Law) all the best in their battles.
posted by hippybear at 11:07 AM on April 20, 2015 [96 favorites]


odinsdream: The taxi companies sucking is not a derail at all. If you want to look at where labor attitudes have gone wrong Uber is just one example of many. I agree with your views, but the fact is that very traditional companies like Starbucks, CVS, etc., now just schedule employees at weird hours and leave them underemployed. Same thing for warehouses and lots of other 'old' jobs.

Uber is new so it's getting more heat, but the massive transformation of low skill jobs is way, way bigger than Uber, and if you point your outrage squarely at the new you'll miss the forrest for the trees.

The main issue is that there aren't enough jobs and there's underemployment as a result. If you don't fix that issue you can't fix stuff like Uber. You can't just legislate away this issue because people will be fucked over in any other number of ways. It's not an answer I like to give, and it's not a fun one to hear, but, unfortunately, that's how the world works.

If we really want to fix this we need to figure out a way to have more even wealth distribution in this country, which is a much larger issue than the distraction that is Uber.
posted by sp160n at 11:11 AM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


easter queen: "
Also, "broken" credit card machines and pressure to pay with Square, ughhh.
"

What is this? You make it sound like a scam of some kind.
posted by boo_radley at 11:16 AM on April 20, 2015


So, should I be paid for the time it takes to shine my shoes for work?

Suits? Dry cleaned? I'm going to assume you are not paid hourly?
posted by aspo at 11:17 AM on April 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


My employer does require a certain level of appearance, so where does one draw the line at Shit One Does for Work Just Because One Needs to Do It and No, You're Not Getting Paid for It?

You draw the line at the existing IRS guidelines on what is a valid business expense. "Professional Attire" is disallowed, while uniforms are allowed.
posted by smackfu at 11:18 AM on April 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


Yeah bonehead. That's exactly what I'm saying...

So as long as we're being ridiculous, do you think cabbies should be making a million dollars a year? Show your work.
posted by holybagel at 11:22 AM on April 20, 2015


You draw the line at the existing IRS guidelines on what is a valid business expense. "Professional Attire" is disallowed,

Guess they had to draw the line somewhere but this still seems like a bunch of bullshit.
posted by josher71 at 11:30 AM on April 20, 2015


If the Fed and state Depts of Labor actually started cracking down on this shit it would be a game changer.

I was under the impression that it was not a big priority, given all of the IT contractors that do business with the federal government and egregiously make no distinction between 1099 and W-2 workers.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:30 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Suits? Dry cleaned? I'm going to assume you are not paid hourly?

What do you mean?
posted by the sobsister at 11:31 AM on April 20, 2015


If you have to wear a suit, you can wear it for other things, and you can buy just about any suit you want. A uniform, not so much.
posted by jeather at 11:31 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


So I live in Seattle. I do not live in one of the posh neighborhoods - I live in Hillman City, just north of Rainier Beach, for those who know the city.

Late one night I went to the store for some groceries and as I came out, a miracle occured: the bus went by early. And I missed it. So I called a cab from one company.

"Won't go there, too dangerous."

Called another. "Forty-five minutes."

When no cab showed an hour later (and now it was 1 AM), I called a third one, and was told "None available."

I finally gave in and for the first time, used Uber. Ten minutes later he was there, and got me home. I've used them again, but also used other service - Curb and Flywheel - but frequently, Uber has been more reliable than those.
posted by mephron at 11:33 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


f you have to wear a suit, you can wear it for other things, and you can buy just about any suit you want. A uniform, not so much.

True. Still, seems like if a business requires you to wear a suit then it qualifies as a uniform of sorts. I'm ok with not being on board with regular thinking about the issue.
posted by josher71 at 11:34 AM on April 20, 2015


Show your work.

Ok. The contractor tango is the current darling for companies to download costs to former employees. It effectively gives a 30% to 50% cut to workers while shifting profits into the corporate pockets.

Uber has chosen to give the consumer a break on pricing to drive traditional providers out of the market. What remains is a cheaper net option for consumers, a profitable company, but a whole industrial sector that has had a wage cut of around 1/3rd.

Is it the best thing for society to have a 20% break on cab fares while a quarter million or so drivers gets a third less money in their pocket at the end of the month? Driving already pays near the minimum wage. This would drive it down to or just below that level. What's the added social costs in higher food supplement and low-income support programs, reduced tax intakes and/or greater problems associated with growing poverty?
posted by bonehead at 11:38 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


The rules for clothing deductions are:
* You must wear them as a condition of your employment.
* The clothes are not suitable for everyday wear.
posted by smackfu at 11:39 AM on April 20, 2015


I was under the impression that it was not a big priority, given all of the IT contractors that do business with the federal government and egregiously make no distinction between 1099 and W-2 workers.

Well yes, if by "not a big priority" you mean "not a priority at all." I'm just saying if you want an actual policy change that will change these business practices, you get a bunch of AGs who'll spend 2 years hammering on 1099 abuse.

My impression is the shitty worker abuse parts are totally extricable from the actual 2-sided market business model, probably at next to no cost to either the rider or the driver. Whatever innovations Uber is committing, making people do work for free is not one of them. They're following an extremely well trod path here.
posted by PMdixon at 11:39 AM on April 20, 2015


> Seems to me that a lot of the employee protections being circumvented by expanding the definition of "contractor" would become a lot less important if we had a real government safety net.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I believe this to be a correct answer (not "the" correct answer, but "a" correct answer.)

I recently left 18 years of working as an employee to become an independent contractor. This transition has been nothing but an improvement for me - I've gone from having shitty insurance to having great insurance (partly a side effect of obamacare - but I actually paid much more for equivalent coverage when it was a "benefit".) I'm not asked or expected to work 70 hours a week. I'm getting paid much more, more than enough to offset the difference of any loss in benefits as well as having to provide my own equipment, more than enough to stash money away in lieu of "unemployment" insurance. I'm enjoying my work more, and I'm better off than I ever have been.

In my experience as an employee - the business was always looking for ways to extract more from the employee, to skirt costs, and to work around labor law. There were bullshit non-competes, you signed away rights to trial by court -- exchange for private mediation - yet it was possible for them to raise litigation against you for any of a variety of offenses. Fire-at-will was a sword dangled over your head by a thread. Overtime didn't exist as an "exempt" employee. You were given very little vacation, most of which was combined with sick time - meaning that most of your sparse vacation time went to personal errands, Drs appointments, etc.

I thought things would be more rigid as a contractor -- As it is, I have a ton more flexibility. It's so much better than I ever thought it would be. The trade-off is that it somehow "seems" less secure, and I have to account for more on my own than I would otherwise.

I acknowledge that this is largely due to the sector I'm contracting in, and I still won a lottery of sorts. I'm incredibly fortunate to be doing what I am doing. I know this isn't the usual experience of someone who has become a contractor, and I know that I am saying all of this from a position of privilege. My thoughts on all of this have been very very conflicted since I've gone this route, because I am indisputably and significantly better off now from a well-being standpoint, as well as a financial standpoint.

It seems to me, though, that being an employee is an ever-more-hostile environment. I've long been a proponent of stronger labor laws in defense of the employee... but I'm starting to wonder if it would make more sense for more of these benefits to be universally available and "decoupled" from the employer - If this was the case, and there was more of a safety net in place (perhaps a basic income), then this would actually empower the employees more than we are seeing today, and more than we are likely to see with labor laws being increasingly chipped away at, and unions becoming an artifact of the past.

As it stands, it seems like more often-than-not, being an employee is becoming more of a way to obtain an illusion of security as a trade for being as much of an indentured servant as a company can get away with. I never actually had that feeling of security, because I knew that I could be fired for any reason. I was reminded of that regularly. I was still expected to cover many of my own expenses related to the job. If you raised your voice and tried to fight for yourself, it was made very clear that this would not end well. If you are not of means, then bringing suit against a company is very difficult - and there is the threat of you being "unemployable" if this has happened in your past, as an unofficial sort of blacklisting.

I'd love to see employees more empowered than they are, and I still believe in greater employee rights. I'm just not sure if it makes more sense for this to be more empowerment for traditional "employees," or more just how we do business in general, regardless of if you are an independent contractor or not... and with more and more employees becoming independent contractors, maybe it makes more sense to bring the battle to those terms.
posted by MysticMCJ at 11:40 AM on April 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


What is this? You make it sound like a scam of some kind.

1) The City of Chicago requires that all taxi drivers accept credit cards, so broken credit card machines are not allowed, and claiming that a machine is "broken" so that the passenger has to pay and tip in cash is especially not allowed, I would assume. I also assume that the reason for this is the same with wait staff-- if they "prefer" not to report all their tips when they file taxes, cash is the only way to do it. If I'm wrong, OK. But I don't carry much cash on me, so having a taxi driver act like they're gonna call the police because I want to pay with my card and they are driving around against code is pretty obnoxious.

2) Paying with Square wasn't permitted until recently-- it's my understanding that it's OK for drivers to accept payment through Square now. However, when I get in a cab and go somewhere and expect to pay with my debit card, I really don't appreciate a random Square being pressed at me, to be honest-- I have no idea if it's legit or what I'm really paying for or if I'm being told to do something illegal, or what the fuck is going on. I think Square is cool and everything, but the level of accountability in "random cab driver who may or may not be spoofing their affiliation/licensure/ID" is kind of too low for me to be fine with that. At a food truck I see every week, it's different.
posted by easter queen at 11:40 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


* You must wear them as a condition of your employment.
* The clothes are not suitable for everyday wear.


I get it. I still don't like it.
posted by josher71 at 11:40 AM on April 20, 2015


I worked for a gas station that had a vest as part of the uniform, it had the company logo on it. We were required not only to buy it (they took deductions from our paycheck the first few weeks), but we were also require to clean it ourselves.
posted by Twain Device at 11:41 AM on April 20, 2015


These are the rare examples of the free market actually working; why dick with it?

It's not a free market if Uber or Lyft works under one set of labor laws, and its competitors work under a completely different set of labor laws.
posted by jonp72 at 11:45 AM on April 20, 2015 [16 favorites]


We were required not only to buy it (they took deductions from our paycheck the first few weeks), but we were also require to clean it ourselves.

This varies by state. Most states I have lived in say that if company uniform clothes are required, the company must pay for them but is not responsible to their upkeep. I do know this is not how all state laws work, but I don't object to doing laundry to keep my work clothes clean. (I would do this even if they were clothes I had paid for.) But if they are clothes that supposedly require dry cleaning, for any of the blue-collar jobs I have done, I would never even take them to a dry cleaner, let alone expect my employer pay for that.
posted by hippybear at 11:46 AM on April 20, 2015


So as long as we're being ridiculous, do you think cabbies should be making a million dollars a year?

sure why not

Show your work.

*produces crayon drawing of a dog pooping on the sidewalk*
posted by poffin boffin at 11:46 AM on April 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


Seems to me that a lot of the employee protections being circumvented by expanding the definition of "contractor" would become a lot less important if we had a real government safety net.

OTOH, it seems like the more government safety net, the more that corporations have to pay in to the government to support it (via taxes and such), and the more incentives there are to avoid having employees.
posted by smackfu at 11:47 AM on April 20, 2015


Contracting is a great thing for people who are actual contractors -- they work for multiple companies (either at once or sequentially), they get to set their own hours and their own rates, etc. I have no issues with people who are contractors -- we hire a bunch of them ourselves for things we need only occasionally (writing, photography, etc), and they are typically happy to be contractors and uninterested in being employees. This is great.

The problem is people who are actually employees being treated as employees in all the ways that convenience the company and contractors in all the ways that don't.
posted by jeather at 11:49 AM on April 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


Uber should be a software service paid for by Taxi companies, then we wouldn't have these issues.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:53 AM on April 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


Having someone on the clock that you can tell what to do during the time they are on the clock without them saying "well, that's going to cost you $X if you want it done" is much less of a headache than having to negotiate every small thing.

Hippybear, that's exactly the Coasian theory of the firm, laid out in anecdotal 'what not to do' form.
posted by pwnguin at 11:55 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


"Broken" credit card machines and pressure to pay with Square. [...] I also assume that the reason for this is the same with wait staff-- if they "prefer" not to report all their tips when they file taxes, cash is the only way to do it.

Some of that, plus-

-Transaction fees. When you use the credit card machine in a cab, the driver is on the hook for the fees - probably at least 3.5% per swipe, including miscellanies. Square charges only 2.75% for each transaction, and the rest goes right to the driver, instead of to

-The cab company: they collect all credit card fares. In order for the driver to get their share, they must physically go to the cab company, wait in line for a few hours, and finally pay another 5% fee at cash out.
posted by Iridic at 12:03 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uber should be a software service paid for by Taxi companies, then we wouldn't have these issues.

Interesting. Then it turns into yelp-for-taxis (the rating system), which might improve competition.
posted by Wild_Eep at 12:05 PM on April 20, 2015


Uber should be a software service paid for by Taxi companies, then we wouldn't have these issues.

I think ideally, it's like Open Table - there's some standardization, and it pushes companies who don't like to pay the service cost to come up with their own competitive options.
posted by mercredi at 12:23 PM on April 20, 2015


> OTOH, it seems like the more government safety net, the more that corporations have to pay in to the government to support it (via taxes and such), and the more incentives there are to avoid having employees.

I'm not necessarily seeing the problem if - as an independent contractor - we are seeing the same benefits as we would as an employee. As it stands, many companies are already going the independent contractor route as a method of avoiding expense and taxes. This could potentially close that particular loophole.

If the difference in the amount that they would pay to have a true "employee" vs. a contractor is offset by the amount that they pay via taxes, (and we can close some of the corporate tax loopholes that exist,) then it seems like this would be a win overall - It could make it potentially easier for businesses to launch if they could pay proportionate to growth, yet also offer greater protections to workers as a whole than we have today.

I almost feel like this would be the way to get some republican support, since it could directly benefit small business.... but I know I'm delusional when I start thinking along those lines. I can't help but think it awesome if we could somehow equate "socialized benefits" with "good for small business," as "good for small business" has traditionally been one of the major talking points used to erode away many of the protections that we have today.

The problem is finding a way of doing this that doesn't just screw over the common man with those taxes. I'm not sure if that's any different than how tax law is headed today, though - and it's not like we are seeing the elite being chipped away at any with existing or proposed regulation.

So much of our labor law is breaking and/or broken, and the fight is becoming more and more difficult. It would be interesting to bring the fight outside of the scope of "labor" and more into what would be fundamental and universal societal benefits.

We started some of this with the affordable healthcare act - For me that was the "oh shit, I can DO this" moment that lead to me working for myself. If it wasn't for that, I'd never be able to afford insurance - even at the highest non-subsidized bracket for my age group, I'm better off than ever from an healthcare perspective.

Contrast with if you are an traditional employee, and benefits are expected to be paid for by your employer -- you are still subject to the bullshit hobby lobby rulings and the like, and are subject to the religious wills of your employer, if you aren't opting out and paying for it yourself -- and since they are considering the benefits part of your "salary," it likely won't be a winning proposition.

Decouple more and more benefits that are associated with traditional employment, and you become less subject to this sort of bullshit.

I realize that I am proposing socialized benefits that are far on the left --- but what is really interesting about that is that if they are implemented correctly (yeah, HUGE if) then good chunks of labor law become irrelevant, and there is potentially LESS of a "burden" to businesses. This would, of course, have to come with protections for labor in general as opposed to contractor/employee separation.

The more we tie these sorts of benefits to employment, the more power we are allowing our employers to hold over us- and as long as we have the split we are seeing now in employee vs. contractor, you can expect more and more of the balance to shift towards contractor. Fighting for more protections and benefits for traditional employees will likely just end up with that becoming more and more rare.

The shift towards contracting is not a new shift, it has been happening for some time - it is just filtering in to many many more sectors now.

I know I'm missing much, I don't pretend to have all of the ideas or solutions here -- It just seems like bringing the conversation more towards societal benefits and protections as opposed to employee benefits and protections is worthwhile.
posted by MysticMCJ at 12:27 PM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think you're right on and I agree with you MysticMCJ.

However, and I may say this incorrectly, I think the idea is that businesses (large businesses) want to maintain some kind of control over the benefits or else provide absolutely nothing. If employees don't need a particular job to get health insurance, then people will have much more freedom to seek working environments that are providing things like better paid time off and work life balance policies (which hurts the bottom line and businesses don't want to do, it's not "nose to the grindstone") . And if everyone is a contactor, they don't have to supply those soft benefits like nice offices or time off or severance in order to attract people.

So I don't think businesses necessarily actually view this as a burden. I think it's about control and profit.

Perhaps someone else could explain it better. I feel I've read about this idea on here before but can't quite recall.
posted by sio42 at 12:54 PM on April 20, 2015


The pre-Uber scenario for cab use here in Pittsburgh used to be: call the dispatcher, wait on hold, finally reach someone, be given a 30 minute arrival time, wait 45 minutes, call back, be told that the driver will be there in another 30 minutes, rinse and repeat until you give up and walk home or call a friend.

This is also true for seattle. In addition to the cab driver possibly trying to rob you, drive you to the end of a random cul-de-sac and try and molest/rape you, overcharge you and pocket the difference, drive without the meter on and try and charge you an arbitrary amount. I've gotten in a very violent fist fight(i realize at this point the question is "there's another kind?" but this was skull-dribbling-on-pavement stuff) with a cab driver who snatched my phone from me when i was texting my friends "hey, i got in a cab, i'm ok" and refused to give it back because i was being "disrespectful" by texting him instead of making conversation, and got angry/violent about it.

I have friends who've had really horrible experiences, and been condescended and treated like shit when they called the dispatch office and even told by a woman who worked there "i wouldn't let my daughter ride in a cab".

I really hate that personal safety and not having to deal with shady scammers has become such a political act. And i don't really mean on mefi at all, i know plenty of people offline who are all "FUCK uber" and it's like... ok, their competitors that this lady is also suing are doing basically all the same shit. What are you suggesting here, that i walk 6 miles in the rain home at 3am?

It's mighty hard to vote with your dollar when the only other options are literally dangerous, or dangerous by being useless in that you can't count on them.

At least around here, the difference in quality between Uber and non-Uber cars is enough to make it vividly clear it's a non-trivial amount of labor to keep them in shape.

Not only that, but they're continuously changing and upping the requirements. They kicked a whole bunch of drivers off of uber black saying a towncar wasn't good enough anymore. ditto with XL and some vans, etc. They'll either tell everyone the requirement is X, everyone buys cars to fit that, then they allow cheaper cars if they're not getting enough drivers... or they bump people with nicer cars in to a lower bracket and make the bracket they were in only for even nicer cars.

Wouldn't he be driving a car owned by the black cab company for them? I don't think he'd be allowed to use that same car for Lyft and Uber.

This varies from company to company. A lot of cab companies rent the cab out to the driver... and charge absolutely awful fees for cleaning/etc, some black car/limo services own the cars and some have them owned by the driver. I used to be friends with a couple people who had a bunch of friends that drove for one and knew one of the dispatchers. It really depends on the place. A LOT of times with towncar services the driver owns the car though.
posted by emptythought at 1:05 PM on April 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


Why can't we have clean, modern, responsive, safe transportation AND not screw workers or consumers?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 1:45 PM on April 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


lawyering up...
Top VC Firm Says Techies Need to Get Along With Government - "Andreessen Horowitz announced today that it’s launching a new policy and regulatory affairs unit, and that it has appointed Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s former general counsel, to lead the shop. Ullyot, who worked at both the White House and the Department of Justice before coming to the Valley, will be tasked with helping the firm’s portfolio companies see eye to eye with the government regulators with whom they’re increasingly butting heads."

also btw...
  • The Rise of the On-Demand Economy - "Pessimists worry that everyone will be reduced to the status of 19th-century dockers crowded on the quayside at dawn waiting to be hired by a contractor. Boosters maintain that it will usher in a world where everybody can control their own lives, doing the work they want when they want it. Both camps need to remember that the on-demand economy is not introducing the serpent of casual labour into the garden of full employment: it is exploiting an already casualised workforce in ways that will ameliorate some problems even as they aggravate others."
  • The Economist is rather skeptical about the chances for most such companies, citing three main potential obstacles in their way. First, because on-demand companies generally try to keep their costs as low as possible, they will face difficulties training, managing and motivating their freelance workforce. Moreover, as the economy recovers, it may be harder for these companies to attract casual, low cost, high quality labor.

    Another potential obstacle are the regulatory and political problems these on-demand companies are likely to face as they get large. In recent months, Uber has been plagued by a number of such problems around the world.

    Scalability is the third potential issue. As we see with Uber, Airbnb and similar companies, there are clear network effects in the on-demand model. “Yet scaling up may be difficult when barriers to entry are low and bonds of loyalty are non-existent. It will be hard to get workers to be loyal to just one middleman. A number of Uber drivers also work for Lyft. In many service industries it is hard to see obvious economies of scale on a national or global level.”
  • Guilty conscience: the 1099 economy - "My guilt stems not from whatever her own personal experience is as much as it does the remaking of the great American economy into a vast labor market of contract workers — the 1099 economy — whose days are dictated by the whims of mobile software and whose job security is often determined by the numerical star rankings of a capricious and harried market."
  • The Crowdsourcing Scam - "In 1968 a Norwegian science fiction writer named Tor Åge Bringsværd published a peculiar short story called 'Codemus'... Everyone has been equipped with a 'little brother'—a digital assistant that we might recognize as a smartphone, right down to its sinister double-duty as a tracking device. Little brothers wake their owners up, tell them when to go to work, guide them on their commutes, and bring them home. They are at once companions, fonts of information, communication tools (everyone talks on them while walking in public), and draconian taskmasters hiding behind the scrim of technological sophistication and awesome computing power. To disobey one's little brother is to violate a central directive of this efficient society."
  • Crowdsourced work is supposed to be a new, more casual, and more liberating form of work, but it is anything but. When companies use the word “crowdsourcing”—a coinage that suggests voluntary democratic participation—they are performing a neat ideological inversion. The kind of tentative employment that we might have scoffed at a decade or two ago, in which individuals provide intellectual labor to a corporation for free or for sub-market wages, has been gussied up with the trappings of technological sophistication, populist appeal, and, in rare cases, the possibility of viral fame. But in reality, this labor regime is just another variation on the age-old practice of exploiting ordinary workers and restructuring industrial relations to benefit large corporations and owners of the platforms serving them.
  • The Right to be Represented by a BOT - "It completely inverts the power relationship between networks and their participants. It also inverts the present legal situation. There are lots of laws at the moment that allow networks to restrict to what degree you can use a bot to interact with them. They basically can restrict you to only use the existing application programming interfaces or the APIs and say only these are legitimate and on top of that, we can limit how much you can do."
    I want to talk for a moment about on-demand car services. Companies like Uber, Lift, and Sidecar. If you’re a driver today, they each have a separate app. Makes it very hard for you as a driver to participate in more than one network at a time.

    If you had the right to be represented by a bot, somebody could write a piece of software that drivers could run, that would allow them to simultaneously participate in all of these marketplaces. And the drivers could then set their own criteria for which rights they want to accept. Now clearly those criteria would include for instance what the commission rate is that the marketplace is charging. And drivers would go for marketplaces that charge less of a commission. So you can see in this example, how the right to be represented by a bot is quite powerful. It would make it very hard for an Uber or a Lift or any one of these companies to charge too high a commission because new networks could come up. A cooperatively owned network, cooperatively owned by the drivers, for instance, and the drivers could participate simultaneously in the new network and the old network.

    And it’s the very threat of the creation of these new networks that would substantially reduce the power of the existing networks. This is important, not just for drivers. We are all freelance workers on Facebook and on Twitter and on all these big social networks. Yes we in part we get paid through free services, free image storage, free communication tools. But we’re also creating value. And it’s not just the distribution of value that we’re worried about, we’re also worried about what do these companies do? We’re worried about questions such as censorship. We’re worried about questions such as, are we being manipulated by what’s being shown to us in the feed? And at the moment, what regulators are doing is they’re trying to come up with ad-hoc regulations to regulate each and every one of these aspects. And many of these ad-hoc regulations, are going to have completely unintended consequences. And often these consequences will be bad...
  • The Utopia Algorithm[*] - "When you buy something on eBay or Airbnb, a cut goes to the company for facilitating the transaction. A handful of programmers are planning to build an online marketplace on Ethereum where buyers and sellers can connect without a third party and their commission."
  • Unbundling of the Job[*] - "Do people need jobs or can we deliver what jobs provide some other way and in a potentially unbundled fashion? The 'jobs of a job' include income, structure, social connections, meaning, and at least in the US, access to healthcare."
  • Is the future of America a crummy service job stamping on a human face, forever?[*] - "Remove the biggest tools in employers' bargaining arsenals: the threat of starvation."
I realize that I am proposing socialized benefits that are far on the left --- but what is really interesting about that is that if they are implemented correctly (yeah, HUGE if) then good chunks of labor law become irrelevant, and there is potentially LESS of a "burden" to businesses. This would, of course, have to come with protections for labor in general as opposed to contractor/employee separation.

In Norway, Start-ups Say Ja to Socialism[*] - "We venture to the very heart of the hell that is Scandinavian socialism—and find out that it's not so bad. Pricey, yes, but a good place to start and run a company. What exactly does that suggest about the link between taxes and entrepreneurship?"

Organised labour: Unions, Inc.[*] - "Some unions, however, are adapting. Scandinavian ones start with an advantage; as in some other European countries, they administer unemployment insurance. But they also shun the confrontational approach of unions in places such as America. Mr Jarvklo's thriving outfit, IF Metall, is one such example: its success comes from 'caring deeply about Scania's competitiveness', he declares. Indeed, 67.7% of Swedish workers belonged to a union in 2011 (the same figure as in 1970)—one of the highest levels in the OECD. Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, president of the blue-collar labour organisation, LO, is confident that it will rise in the coming years. He also plans to bring together Sweden's businesses and unions to reaffirm their commitment to co-operate, known as the Saltsjobaden Agreement, on its 75th anniversary this year."
posted by kliuless at 1:49 PM on April 20, 2015 [21 favorites]


Slightly OT, but commenters desirous of relief from car talk might want a pizza break.
posted by BWA at 2:23 PM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Seems like the best case scenario is to reform the system to create a new status to account for participants in the sharing economy.

From the article:

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, who is overseeing the Lyft case, said that existing labor law doesn’t map well with these companies’ business models. Lyft drivers don’t seem exactly like employees or independent contractors, he wrote in his motion. “The jury in this case will be handed a square peg and asked to choose between two round holes,” he wrote [PDF]. “The test the California courts have developed over the 20th Century for classifying workers isn’t very helpful in addressing this 21st Century problem.”

From the judge's statement:

At first glance, Lyft drivers don't seem much like employees. We generally understand an
employee to be someone who works under the direction of a supervisor, for an extended or
indefinite period of time, with fairly regular hours, receiving most or all his income from that one
employer (or perhaps two employers). Lyft drivers can work as little or as much as they want, and
can schedule their driving around their other activities. A person might treat driving for Lyft as a
side activity, to be fit into his schedule when time permits and when he needs a little extra income.

But Lyft drivers don't seem much like independent contractors either. We generally
understand an independent contractor to be someone with a special skill (and with the bargaining
power to negotiate a rate for the use of that skill), who serves multiple clients, performing discrete
tasks for limited periods, while exercising great discretion over the way the work is actually done.
Traditionally, an independent contractor is someone a principal might have found in the Yellow
Pages to perform a task that the principal or the principal's own employees were unable to perform—often something tangential to the day-to-day operations of the principal's business. See
Antelope Valley Press v. Poizner, 75 Cal. Rptr. 3d 887, 900 (Ct. App. 2008) (describing the
traditional "notion [of] an independent contractor [as] someone hired to achieve a specific result
that is attainable within a finite period of time, such as plumbing work, tax service, or the creation
of a work of art for a building's lobby"). Lyft drivers use no special skill when they give rides.

Their work is central, not tangential, to Lyft's business. Lyft might not control when the drivers
work, but it has a great deal of power over how they actually do their work, including the power to
fire them if they don't meet Lyft's specifications about how to give rides. And some Lyft drivers
no doubt treat their work as a full-time job—their livelihood may depend solely or primarily on
weekly payments from Lyft, even while they lack any power to negotiate their rate of pay. Indeed,
this type of Lyft driver—the driver who gives "Lyfts" 50 hours a week and relies on the income to
feed his family—looks very much like the kind of worker the California Legislature has always
intended to protect as an "employee."
posted by Apocryphon at 2:35 PM on April 20, 2015 [14 favorites]



Why can't we have clean, modern, responsive, safe transportation AND not screw workers or consumers?


*investor voice* that doesn't sound very profitable
posted by poffin boffin at 2:47 PM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


emptythought: I really hate that personal safety and not having to deal with shady scammers has become such a political act. And i don't really mean on mefi at all, i know plenty of people offline who are all "FUCK uber" and it's like... ok, their competitors that this lady is also suing are doing basically all the same shit. What are you suggesting here, that i walk 6 miles in the rain home at 3am?

Well, safety is one of the concerns with Uber. Taxis remain dangerous in some places (they feel pretty safe here, but maybe where you are is different) despite being extensively legislated. Do you really think Uber, which is less liable for the behavior of their 'contractors' and which is less legislated (and is known for ignoring what legislation does apply), will be better? Even if it is now, how long will that hold? They're fighting tooth and nail to get into, and be established, in new markets at this time. Later, they'll have competitors of the same type and will have to reduce costs and fight for drivers harder, and standards will inevitably slip.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:31 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]




The rhetoric that somehow Uber innovated a new, abusive means of obtaining personal services from drivers is absurd. Taxi and livery drivers have for decades been independent contractors most places in the country, and in the few places where they legally required to be a fleet's W-2 employee, their compensation arrangements essentially duplicate contracting: fares plus tips minus fixed cost for vehicle minus mileage minus fuel. Livery drivers (not so much taxi drivers) have been predominantly owners of their cars, as opposed to day lessees, for many many years as well.

Where Uber has innovated is working around, or simply defying, taxi license and medallion laws.
posted by MattD at 5:36 PM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


> Do you really think Uber, which is less liable for the behavior of their 'contractors' and which is less legislated (and is known for ignoring what legislation does apply), will be better?

I think so. Having a rating system means that creeps and dangerous drivers get bad ratings and have a hard time continuing to drive. If Uber stops maintaining that, Lyft or someone else will replace them. That is an inherently safer system than the common taxi one where there's only an occasional check of the vehicle and driver's license.
posted by parudox at 5:45 PM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


These are the same cab companies that are often structure in such a way as to avoid financial liability for the owners. The same cab companies that never hold themselves accountable to customer feedback, the same cab companies with a local govt. approved monopoly.

Yeah no kidding. Yellow Cab in Chicago had a big liability settlement against them for driver negligence and immediately declared bankruptcy. Guess who is going to have pick up the tab for lifelong care for the injured passenger now? Everyone! How in the holy hell this regulated cab industry gets to operate without sufficient liability insurance is baffling to me but I think I am pretty safe in assuming that Uber's going to be even worse than the yellow medallioned mob.
posted by srboisvert at 6:45 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Uber" is a taxi service, i don't see how the argument that "taxis suck" makes any sense. of course taxis suck, but the argument is whether drivers should be paid. ride a bike.
posted by eustatic at 7:18 PM on April 20, 2015


Seems like the best case scenario is to reform the system to create a new status to account for participants in the sharing economy.

Call it "student-athletes".

(Uber and its cohorts are to independent contractors what the big NCAA sports are to amateurism.)
posted by holgate at 7:37 PM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Uber" is a taxi service, i don't see how the argument that "taxis suck" makes any sense. of course taxis suck, but the argument is whether drivers should be paid. ride a bike.

If you read this thread, you'll find plenty of people who will tell you how Uber has met their needs in areas where traditional taxi service has horribly sucked. Yes, they are both fundamentally taxi services. But Uber didn't become massively popular without being better than the alternatives.

Anyway, whether drivers should be paid is not really the argument. Absolutely no one in this thread thinks Uber drivers should literally work for free under some kind of slave-like conditions. There's a legitimate discussion over what kind of relationship Uber drivers should have with Uber, which has its roots both in important but weird details of US law and more broadly, in ethics and fairness, not to mention market forces.

Anyway, I'm glad you've distilled this complex issue down to "ride a bike." That's a good plan to get home from a night visiting local bars. Or to get me and my luggage to the airport. Or to get an elderly relative to a medical appointment. Or climb a steep ass hill. Or get to a job interview without being all sweaty or risking the unreliability of buses. Yep, one mode of transportation for everyone it is.
posted by zachlipton at 7:39 PM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yes, I'll ride a bike to the airport with my luggage and then check the bike on the plane. Or I'll bike home drunk after a night out! Thank you!! *EYEROLL*

There are a lot of articles floating around about how Uber is actually safer than a traditional taxi, but I can't tell how much actual data/information they are basing this thesis on. It does make sense that with the rating system, there is more accountability. Same with airbnb.
posted by easter queen at 7:39 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'll link again to Bobbie Johnson's piece on the reasons why people hate Uber:
Uber makes everything so easy, which means it shows us who, and what, we really are. It shows us how, whatever objections we might say we hold, we don’t actually care very much at all. We have our beliefs, our morals, our instincts. We have our dislike of douchebags, our mistrust of bad behavior. We have all that. But in the end, it turns out that if something’s 10 percent cheaper and 5 percent faster, we’ll give it all up quicker than we can order a sandwich.
Uber and AirBnb can already buy off a lot of cities and states (because, fuck, VC millions make it very easy to buy off a state, and a tech company can buy off a city with angel funding) and their success only brings us closer to the reckoning. The "share economy" (ugh, language crime) is an extractive industry. Unlike King Coal in West Virginia, it's not extracting shit from the earth and dumping the externalities into rivers, but it is extracting labour from individuals with huge power asymmetry and dumping less tangible externalities wherever it goes.
posted by holgate at 8:18 PM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Instead of blaming Uber for the general problems of a capitalist economy, why not just support a basic income for everyone and stop the problems at their source? That would make a lot more sense than the silly, antiquated protectionism.
posted by shivohum at 8:29 PM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


So when people are referring to Uber in this thread, do they mean UberX? I've used Uber a bunch of times in Chicago and I always call a regulated livery driver — a yellow cab or a black car. It's a much nicer experience than hailing a cab, and I don't believe the same labor issues as with UberX apply. I'd love to be corrected if that's not true.
posted by stopgap at 9:19 PM on April 20, 2015


Instead of blaming Uber for the general problems of a capitalist economy, why not just support a basic income for everyone and stop the problems at their source? That would make a lot more sense than the silly, antiquated protectionism.

Yeah, and instead of complaining about your computer being slow and expensive, why not just support the singularity which will make computers infinitely powerful and infinitely cheap? That would make a lot more sense than the silly, antiquated whining.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:26 PM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well, safety is one of the concerns with Uber. Taxis remain dangerous in some places (they feel pretty safe here, but maybe where you are is different) despite being extensively legislated. Do you really think Uber, which is less liable for the behavior of their 'contractors' and which is less legislated (and is known for ignoring what legislation does apply), will be better? Even if it is now, how long will that hold? They're fighting tooth and nail to get into, and be established, in new markets at this time. Later, they'll have competitors of the same type and will have to reduce costs and fight for drivers harder, and standards will inevitably slip.

While I can't address the "later" part(and really, how could anyone get that hypothetical?) I can speak for the now. I know lots of service industry people, musicians, bartenders, dancers, tattoo artists, etc. I worked for years at a coffee roasteria that has stores open til 11pm where you're not done until almost 1 every night. Lots of people who use some of their tips to take a cab home every night because there's no transit or fuck it, it's late.

Many of these people had taken cabs for years. Some of my coworkers since the 90s.

The general consensus is almost unilaterally that it's 100% better, or very close to it.

Maybe uber will get shitty in a couple years. Who knows. It IS shitty that they have no public facing phone number and only email. But the couple times I've had a billing error or problem with a driver I've sent a support email and... Just gotten a quick response and a full refund, even plus credit. I first chalked this up to it being my first time, but it's happened every time.

Why do I feel so gross speaking good about this company? I hate the no phone thing... But they've actually been... Ok. Even good. And I've heard it's super easy to get fired for being reported as an asshole even twice. Which is, I guess a double edged sword like their 4.7 raiting requirement... But it's a good step? Especially compared to how calling in a complaint about cabs would be met with a brick wall or condescension. Even to the city regulatory office.

So when people are referring to Uber in this thread, do they mean UberX? I've used Uber a bunch of times in Chicago and I always call a regulated livery driver — a yellow cab or a black car. It's a much nicer experience than hailing a cab, and I don't believe the same labor issues as with UberX apply. I'd love to be corrected if that's not true.

It's only that way in a few cities. I think mainly nyc and Chicago. On the west coast, uberx is all unlicensed cars and uber black is towncars with, at least in my area, "limo" licenses.

It's almost all priuses with no licensing though. Like 90%
posted by emptythought at 10:46 PM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, and instead of complaining about your computer being slow and expensive, why not just support the singularity which will make computers infinitely powerful and infinitely cheap? That would make a lot more sense than the silly, antiquated whining.

You know what, I was going to ask in the other thread about Automation why the hell ISN'T there some nascent proto-movement, NGO, think tank, third party, petition, whatever for the institution of a basic income. A stock answer to the crisis brought upon by automation is, "it isn't a techology problem, it's a political issue, it can be solved by redistribution by the wealth gained from automation." Well then, why isn't anyone (the Swiss aside) trying to lobby for an attempt at basic income?

It might not succeed, not in a very long time, but if the idea is worth seeking out to avert a future catastrophe, I don't see how it's any less valid than asking people to carpool (by ridesharing, mayhaps?) in order to forestall the future dystopia created by climate change.

The sooner that basic income gets thought of as an actual solution we can try today, rather than a futuristic flight of fancy, the sooner we get towards fixing this whole mess.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:21 PM on April 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Basic Income is a fantastic idea that is hopelessly tangled with issues of Citizenship, Borders, and Immigration.
posted by fraxil at 7:12 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've been using Uber as a primary form of transport for about a year. Most of my rides are pretty short - between 2 and 10 miles and are work related. I live in a city north of Detroit, a very economically depressed area. When I first started using the service, the rates for drivers were pretty good. The drivers were plentiful, getting rides wasn't an issue. This is mainly because lots of the drivers lived in or near my city, and they can travel to an area south of me which has a thriving city center, and centralize where they can pick up rides for short trips.

Then they cut the rates for riders (and obviously the drivers) by about half. And all the Ubers disappeared.

The area I live in is dispersed. There's no central "downtown" area where riders are plentiful and therefore drivers have a place to centralize these cheap, $4.00 rides (of which they make about $2.00.

When I call for an uber, the driver generally has to make a 10-15 minute trip just to pick me up. Typically, I'll get a phone call from the driver, asking my destination (they don't know it before the trip actually starts). If they call, I tell them about the extra, obligatory tip they're getting from me. If they don't call, I'll text or call them with the info about the tip. And then leave it to them to decide if it's worth it to come ahead. If they are, great. If not, I cancel the trip, not the driver (their rating is more important than mine).

Point is, I don't have control over uber's rates or how they treat their drivers, but I do have the ability to make up the difference between a losing and a winning proposition for the driver.

As far as a moral stance, well, I don't think uber drivers are an oppressed class. And for the most part they are better off than I am. They do get to pick and choose their working hours and whether or not they want to pick me up. I don't have the luxury of taking a principled stand. So all I can do is make it better for the drivers I encounter.
posted by disclaimer at 9:00 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh and: I use UberX almost exclusively, and have had only one "bad" ride, with a driver who was clearly high on something or had some kind of mental issue going on. It was not a safe ride, and I aborted it and reported him.
posted by disclaimer at 9:03 AM on April 21, 2015


"When I call for an uber, the driver generally has to make a 10-15 minute trip just to pick me up. Typically, I'll get a phone call from the driver, asking my destination (they don't know it before the trip actually starts). If they call, I tell them about the extra, obligatory tip they're getting from me. If they don't call, I'll text or call them with the info about the tip. And then leave it to them to decide if it's worth it to come ahead. If they are, great. If not, I cancel the trip, not the driver (their rating is more important than mine)."

Wait, I'm confused, none of this sounds like what happens when I use uber. They seem to know my destination right off the bat when I ask for a cab and if there's no cab within maybe 2 miles of me it doesn't let me request one.
posted by I-baLL at 9:08 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


why the hell ISN'T there some nascent proto-movement, NGO, think tank, third party, petition, whatever for the institution of a basic income

Some Notes from the Basic Income Congress :P

in the US there's some stepping stones like the payroll tax reductions that have sunsetted (after keeping us out of recession; so keynesian!), an EITC expansion, some would say the growing ranks on disability insurance -- but does it all just go to big business? -- and then there's this: Surprising political momentum for a basic income within the GOP
...the tax plan of Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) gets rid of the standard deduction, personal exemption, and 10 percent tax bracket. That simplifies the tax code to a degree, but it also leaves lower-income people worse off. So the plan also introduces a "personal credit," worth $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples filing jointly.

At first glance, this is just a boring tax break consolidation. But here's the thing: the personal credit is refundable. This isn't made clear in the proposal itself, but a Rubio aide confirmed it to me in an email. So the $2,000 is a guaranteed payment to people whether or not they have a positive tax burden. "It would be equivalent to a cash transfer payment that every adult could receive even if they had no income or tax liability — they’d just need to file a return and claim it," the Tax Policy Center's Len Burman writes in a post on the Rubio-Lee credit. It is, in other words ... the beginning of a basic income.

But it's not really a basic income. The Rubio aide also stated, "Rules would be tailored to ensure that our reforms would not create payments for new, non-working filers." So it'd be a cash grant with a work requirement attached, a proviso most basic-income advocates vocally reject. You couldn't get it if you have no income. And, of course, $2,000 per person is not exactly enough to live on. So the Rubio-Lee plan isn't proposing the basic income advocate's dream policy. But it is proposing a transitional policy that basic-income activists could latch onto...
internationally you've mentioned switzerland but there's also cash transfer 'experiments' going on in mexico, brazil and india on the fiscal side of things -- MOF, treasury, exchequer -- but a little more intriguing to me is how monetary policy is evolving. since the great recession central banks have arguably taken on more fiscal decisionmaking and in effect already offer a 'basic income' to the banks which they're mostly just sitting on (or, scrooge mcduck like, swimming in) which has prompted some to say, well if you're not doing anything with it, why not just give it to the people?[*] so it'd look something like this:
  1. [central bank]-->[banks]-->[people]
  2. [central bank]-->[people]
  3. [...]
  4. profit!
crazy you say? japan is thinking about it:[1,2,3] "The mechanics would be relatively straightforward. Assume each of Japan’s 52 million households received a debit card with, say, 200,000 yen ($1,700) loaded onto it by the central bank. Any remaining balance on the cards would disappear after a year, ensuring that recipients spent the windfall. The move would inject an extra 10 trillion yen, or 2 percent of GDP, of private purchasing power into the economy. This in turn would encourage companies to invest and pay higher wages. The net effect would resemble a tax cut, but one financed by newly printed money rather than government debt."

and iceland has an even more radical idea... (and that's not even getting into electronic money ;)

I think the idea is that businesses (large businesses) want to maintain some kind of control over the benefits or else provide absolutely nothing. If employees don't need a particular job to get health insurance, then people will have much more freedom to seek working environments that are providing things like better paid time off and work life balance policies... I don't think businesses necessarily actually view this as a burden. I think it's about control and profit.

You Can't Tip a Buick had this to say recently: "we've been moved into service jobs where our value to employers comes primarily from our ability to perform our own suffering — to scrape and bow for our betters, no matter how stupid their demands are, no matter how much we have to ignore our own needs to service their wants. Until such time as machines can show real agony, and then (and this is important) mask that real agony behind a waitron's fake smile, we won't starve. Instead we'll continue to be employed supplying affective labor for the people who matter."

on the other end of the ingrained cultural ritualization pole i thought this was an interesting observation as well: "Individuals don’t get paid in wages for creating and maintaining digital selves — they get paid in the satisfaction of participating in rituals, and the control afforded them over their social interactions. They get paid in the feeling of floating in the vast virtual connectivity, even as their hand machines mediate social bonds, helping people imagine togetherness while keeping them separate as distinct productive entities. The voluntary nature of these new rituals does not make them any less important, or less profitable for capital."
posted by kliuless at 9:54 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I-baLL,

I'm not sure of the actual logistics of the app from the driver side. I think the destination is not exposed to the driver until some time after they have actually accepted the trip. After they accept, it usually goes something like this:

- I request an uber, entering the destination.
::wait for ride to be accepted by the driver - this can be a couple of minutes unless the app times out::
- driver accepts - moments later, I get a phone call:
Driver: hi, I'm x, your uber driver. Where are you now?
Me: I am at (home address)
Driver: where are you going?
Me: I am going to (destination). I know it's a short trip. I tip very well for short trips.
Driver: you're not expected to tip...
Me: ...I know, but I need to get there and I'd rather pay more for the trip than have you cancel because you can't make money.
...negotiation continues.

That negotiation has to happen pretty fast, because there's a timer running. If it takes too long I'll get charged 4 bucks for canceling the trip.

Point being, they lose money just by picking me up. As I have requested from uber many times, I wish they would make two improvements to the app on behalf of the drivers: First, expose the destination to the driver before they accept a trip. Second, give me the option to enter a tip amount when I request a driver.
posted by disclaimer at 11:22 AM on April 21, 2015




Unlike King Coal in West Virginia, it's not extracting shit from the earth and dumping the externalities into rivers, but it is extracting labour from individuals with huge power asymmetry and dumping less tangible externalities wherever it goes.

Doesn't this describe damn near every employment situation?

The whole Uber hate on the left just baffles me, especially since the arguments hardly seem unique to Uber/Lyft/Airbnb, can get kind of hypothetical, don't strike me as particularly heinous, and simply don't jibe with the services I've actually encountered. Even when people admit that Uber might be better to use and work for than a traditional cab company, the instinct is still to kill it. This is one of those things where I get the feeling that staking a moral high ground and letting it be known to all one's peers makes the perfect the enemy of the good, and reinforces the tilt-at-the-windmill mentality.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:42 PM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


The whole Uber hate on the left just baffles me, especially since the arguments hardly seem unique to Uber/Lyft/Airbnb,

Maybe this is just me coming from a particularly San Francisco-centric point of view, but they came in like "Rules? Regulations? Permits? Taxes? Why should we have to pay any attention to that? We're disruptors, man!" and I know I am not the only SF resident who's had a visceral reaction to that.
posted by rtha at 12:59 PM on April 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


For me, it's a visceral reaction, as I was taken advantage of as a new employee for about five years by a very similar scheme: "independent contractor" doing core business work.

Uber would be a lot less shady if they put themselves forward as a dispatcher for a set of independent operators, who could negotiate their own rates like actual independents. A slight difference, I know, but still. Technologically and in terms of customer experience, Uber is leaps and bounds ahead of normal cabs. But I can't get around that they're taking short-cuts though that will, I'm sure, end up non-theoretically biting a whole bunch of divers in the ass, sooner than later.
posted by bonehead at 1:14 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


rtha: "Maybe this is just me coming from a particularly San Francisco-centric point of view, but they came in like "Rules? Regulations? Permits? Taxes? Why should we have to pay any attention to that? We're disruptors, man!" and I know I am not the only SF resident who's had a visceral reaction to that."

But as has been documented here, traditional taxi companies are no better to employees and much worse to customers for years. Why single out Uber when Yellow Cab companies have been horrible for generations? And it's not like taxis are some mom-and-pop operation, many of them are owned by giant multi-nationals like TransDev.
posted by octothorpe at 1:40 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think taxis are All That just because I don't like Uber's model - I am capable of holding both as less-than stellar examples of how to treat employees. (I mean contractors!) But I notice you don't at all address the main grrrr in my comment there, about Uber et al. ignoring the various requirements that their established competitors comply with. For the record, pointing that out doesn't mean I think the ones who do comply are perfect, either.
posted by rtha at 1:44 PM on April 21, 2015


Doesn't this describe damn near every employment situation?

Well, that's what unions are for. It's a constant curiosity that in the US you mostly see this asymmetry challenged in professional sports and Hollywood.

The whole Uber hate on the left just baffles me

I'm baffled that you're baffled. Perhaps it's murkier in the US, especially in the context of bullshit right-to-work and at-will employment laws, but the political history of the left includes ending child labour, enforcing health and safety standards at work, setting working time (enjoy your weekend!) and holidays, creating frameworks for compensation and unemployment insurance, empowering collective bargaining rights, preventing workplace discrimination and arbitrary dismissal, etc.

The model for independent contractors is of workers able to pick and choose their work at their convenience without being beholden to whoever's paying them beyond the terms of their contracts. The reality in the "share economy" and zero-hours contract employment more often means being permanently on-call and responsible for all of the externalities that don't look good on a corporate balance sheet. (Incidentally, it also shifts the burden for paying/withholding taxes onto workers, and I wonder how many share-economy-croppers have been dinged with IRS penalties this tax season while the people paying them don't have to worry about that shit.)

As hinted upthread, this goes against the Coasian theory of the firm, and it's plausible to argue that transaction costs in money and time are now being piled onto those doing the actual work.

To me, it seems like the 'independent contractor' label is used to convey a class premium over wage-employment, even when it's the functional equivalent of hiring day-labourers and paying them in cash.
posted by holgate at 2:42 PM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Certainly, independent contractors are often abused for their less-than-employee status. But many of these ride sharing drivers really may be contractors who choose to drive as freely as they want to.

What needs to be done is to draw a distinction between people who can make a quick buck by occasionally driving when and where they want to, and people who rely upon it as a major source of income.

It'd be helpful if there are any MeFites who have participated as drivers before to chime in on their experiences. I feel like we should hear from actual drivers and deliverers here.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:23 PM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


oh and speaking of 'nascent proto-movements' i forgot the UK green party's monetary policy platform![*] which to me is awe inspiring (i'm weird?) just by being a major plank of a not-so-major -- 5%; but potentially influential? -- political party (despite, by some accounts, running a poor campaign ;) check it out:
EC662 The existing banking system is undemocratic, unfair and highly damaging. Banks not only create money,[*] they also decide how it is first used – and have used this power to fund financial speculation and reckless mortgage lending, rather than to finance investment in productive businesses. Through the interest charged on the loans on which all credit is based, the current banking system increases inequality. It also regularly causes economic crises: banks create and lend more and more money until the level of debt becomes unsustainable, boom turns to bust, and the taxpayer bails out banks that are “too big to fail”. Finally, the need to service the growing mountain of debt on which our money is based is a key driver of unsustainable economic growth that is destroying the environment...

EC669 A Green government would retain ownership of nationalised banks and direct these to create a permanent and genuinely national bank out of one or more of the currently ‘nationalised’ banks. This People’s Bank would form an exception to the percentage-based size-restriction specified in EC668: it would be available as a guaranteed safe-haven to deposit money in for any and all citizens. Most citizens seek safety for their money, not a risky high rate of return, and the People’s Bank would offer this in perpetuity. The People’s Bank would offer current accounts and all other basic banking services. Its lending and other policies would ensure it acts as a non-profit, seeking where necessary to restrict or to relax credit in the national interest. It would in effect be a high street branch of the Bank of England. Its raison d’etre above all would be to act prudently in the interests of all its depositors, to ensure that there was no risk of a bank-run ever endangering their money. This would be achieved by the People’s Bank being constitutionally limited to low-risk activities, and by the fact that it would be owned and guaranteed by the state. A Green government would seek to bring all banking institutions into social control...

EC680 A Green government will create a Green National Investment Bank out of one or more of the currently ‘nationalised’ banks. This bank would focus on funding the move to a green economy by investment in green technologies, renewables, energy efficiency programmes, and providing funds for worker-led buyouts of medium and largesized companies...

Citizens' Income

EC730 A Citizen's Income sufficient to cover an individual's basic needs will be introduced, which will replace tax-free allowances and most social security benefits (see EC711). A Citizen's Income is an unconditional, non-withdrawable income payable to each individual as a right of citizenship. It will not be subject to means testing and there will be no requirement to be either working or actively seeking work.

EC731 The Citizens' Income will eliminate the unemployment and poverty traps, as well as acting as a safety net to enable people to choose their own types and patterns of work (See EC400). The Citizens' Income scheme will thus enable the welfare state to develop towards a welfare community, engaging people in personally satisfying and socially useful work.

EC732 When the Citizens' Income is introduced it is intended that nobody will be in a position that they will receive less through the scheme than they were entitled to under the previous benefits system. Children will be entitled to a reduced amount which will be payable to a parent or legal guardian. People with disabilities or special needs, and single parents will receive a supplement.
---
[*] i'd simplify their financial regulation though by simply abolishing banking and applying a systemic solvency rule, whereby: "The total value of financial assets of a company has to be less than or equal to the value of its equity. As they explain: 'This reading highlights that companies have to back assets that are someone else's liability with their own funds, that is, equity. Companies cannot finance credit with someone else's credit.' "
posted by kliuless at 3:34 PM on April 21, 2015


For a dose of your Blade Runner future, Hong Kong taxi drivers with multiple phones, smartphones and tablets so that they can pick up fares from multiple legal and not-so-legal dispatches. (And here's one in SF.)

Makes F1 drivers' instrument panel look minimalist.
posted by holgate at 4:38 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Maybe this is just me coming from a particularly San Francisco-centric point of view, but they came in like "Rules? Regulations? Permits? Taxes? Why should we have to pay any attention to that?

There would be no Uber if they tried to follow the regulations. The regulation most crucial to Uber's business is the restriction on the quantity of taxi licenses, which in many cities is fiercely protected by essentially a cartel. Taxi medallions / licenses are worth absurd amounts of money because of how artificially scarce they are, and medallion owners fight fiercely to protect their source of profits. You could spend decades battling them through municipal politics, or you could launch a service that is so much better than the status quo that the status quo on regulations is no longer politically tenable. I don't like Uber's brand of asshole behavior, but I'm not sure there was any other way to bring about that big a shift in the attitude towards / use of small vehicle transit in North America. Cartels don't innovate.

In my city, taxis are not abundant, they are not convenient, the drivers don't know the city and their driving does not inspire confidence, plus taxi drivers have racked up quite the record of sexual assaults in the last couple of years. People don't take taxis unless they have to. The cost of a taxi license on the gray market? $300K. A few years ago, the local taxi industry had the gall to ask for a reduction in the number of licenses per capita - despite the population becoming more urban on average.
posted by parudox at 6:57 PM on April 21, 2015


The entire model for Uber is a business in which the employees do all the work and own all the capital and yet the company still takes profits despite the usual capitalist position of "I own the capital, therefore I get profit from your labor" not applying. It's the next frontier in extractive capitalism, one in which the capitalist class need not even own most of the business's capital to be entitled to skim profits off of labor's output. Combine that with their arrogant, open, proud contempt for law and regulation and anybody who doesn't own Uber stock should be signing up to carry a torch or a pitchfork.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:16 PM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Uber also has issues with sexual assault, exploitation, misrepresenting safety, and denial of responsibility.

Seriously, just Google "Uber sexual asault" and come back and try to claim that Uber is safe and holds its drivers accountable. It's the worst of all possible worlds on both sides: Drivers don't get job security or benefits, and riders can't expect any corporate accountability for bad drivers.
posted by jaguar at 10:24 PM on April 21, 2015


If I were sexually assaulted by any driver, corporate taxi or Uber contractor, the first place I would turn to in my quest for accountability would be the police.
posted by hippybear at 12:55 AM on April 22, 2015


I understand the next level of extractive capitalism argument but I'm ok with being a part of it at this juncture despite all the arguments to the contrary. I may be convinced otherwise but not yet.

I think Uber drivers should have more protections under the law as I think all workers should. I would like to see a comprehensive change in the personal transportation industry that improves the wages and lives of drivers of any sort of vehicle such as an uber or taxi.
posted by josher71 at 6:23 AM on April 22, 2015


Uber has taken off where I live in the UK in the past six months. There is a lot of taxi use by students in the evenings and weekends and being an Uber driver allows them to work during the busy times and avoid slow times. This doesn't necessarily benefit the non student taxi using population. You don't really see Uber cars much outside of the student areas.

The Hackney Carriage driver that I spoke to said that Uber drivers pay 1/3 of the fare to Uber. This must be worth doing rather than paying to rent the dispatch computer from a local firm, which I know are around £100 per week if you are an owner driver.

One of the large local firms actually had an app a couple of years ago which they ditched, probably because the owner didn't pay the developers as he is reportedly an monumental asshole. They would have been well ahead of the curve if they had kept on with that.

All local firms have been tracking drivers with GPS for years here. On the occasion that I have had to go to the office to complain about a driver they can access a map of the journey I took via the pick up address, driver number, car number, customer telephone number or time of collection.

Most people I talk to are suspicious of Uber because they are not regulated by the council. Personally I think the rating system is a good idea, there should be room for someone to create a rating system that would work for all taxi companies. All taxis here have a number on the outside and the driver has to show ID, so it wouldn't be difficult to connect data to drivers or cars. The rating of customers is equally important in my opinion, allowing the drivers to feel like their experience is also important. That would be more difficult to implement.

Being able to see where the car you are hiring is located would be great for customers too. If this becomes more common due to the popularity of the Uber app then that would be a great thing. Uber the company does seem to be pretty awful, run by repugnant people in a sketchy way. For that reason I have not yet attempted to use them when I need a taxi.
posted by asok at 7:50 AM on April 22, 2015


here's a whole thread on an uber driver forum about how they can't see the destination, how they can accept the ping, call the person and find out where they're going, and then decline if it's not far enough.

the driver goes on to discuss how uber can't fault for them for this because if uber starts making rules about who they have to take, then they're acting like an employer not a independent contractor.

http://uberpeople.net/threads/its-easy-to-know-the-riders-destination.2768/
posted by sio42 at 9:43 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I were sexually assaulted by any driver, corporate taxi or Uber contractor, the first place I would turn to in my quest for accountability would be the police.
Uber champions its “industry-leading standards” for vetting its drivers. On its website, it describes its background checks as “often more rigorous” than those in the traditional taxi industry.

But in statehouses across the country, Uber has fought against legislation requiring background checks as strong as those demanded of traditional taxis. Other ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Sidecar, Uber’s chief rivals, have also pushed against the laws, but supporters of stronger background checks say Uber has been by far the most aggressive.

...But lawmakers say that in the rush to add drivers, Uber and Lyft are choosing speed over quality in background checks....

Both services do drug and alcohol testing, but neither does fingerprint testing. And they rely primarily on publicly available information.

Although state background checks for taxi drivers vary by jurisdiction, lawmakers say they are generally more rigorous than either of these services. They usually include searches of private databases like F.B.I. records, gaining consent from prospective drivers for those searches, said Adrin Nazarian, a California assemblyman who has pushed for stronger vetting laws.

In February, Mr. Nazarian sponsored a bill to require companies like Uber to put their drivers through the same process facing traditional taxi drivers. In California, those drivers must undergo checks by the state’s Justice Department, including fingerprint scanning, drug and alcohol testing, and searches of private databases.
posted by jaguar at 9:56 AM on April 22, 2015


From the Uber driver forum I just posted


You are right that UberX is really not 'ridesharing'. Their lawyers simply invented the term to get around the fact that they are essentially a gypsy cab service with an app and a billion dollars. We are not 'sharing a ride' with our customers. They request a ride, we drive to their house, take them exactly where they want to go, and are paid for it. We are no more 'sharing a ride' then we are 'sharing a flight' with the pilots on the plane.
posted by sio42 at 10:34 AM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've been reading through that forum and man, is it interesting.

If anyone is still paying attention to this thread and wants to hear the Uber drivers' side, check out that forum.

I really had no idea they received so little of the pay, that the ability to see the destination prior to accepting the ping was only recently taken away (making it harder for them to decide if they want to accept a fare or not), and that they can get "deactivated" for seemingly minor issues, such as not wanting to an accept a trip that will take them 15 minutes (or more) to get to but then only be a $5 trip.

I'm starting to feel less enthusiastic about Uber and will start tipping my drivers since I go only short distances around here and our mass transit sucks so bad.

There has got be a better way to do all of this.
posted by sio42 at 11:51 AM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


You mean like a taxi service?
posted by Justinian at 2:20 PM on April 23, 2015




You mean like a taxi service?

What was the better way about them, again?
posted by josher71 at 3:53 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not that a taxi service is awesome, it's that as legislation or regulations are passed to address the issues that sio42 identifies (or other issues), Uber would become more and more indistinguishable from a regular taxi service. There's a reason that taxi services operate as they do.
posted by Justinian at 7:47 PM on April 23, 2015


> There's a reason that taxi services operate as they do.

And while some of that is deliberate regulation for the public good, some of it is inertia (both industry and regulation) and regulatory capture.
posted by parudox at 10:02 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


taxi companies don't treat their drivers any better.

there's a reason all the taxi drivers do all the horrible things mentioned over and over again in this thread. it ain't because they're happy. taxi drivers are also often I-9 employees who lease that car from the taxi service. they make a fraction of the fare as well. and if they refuse fares too often, they are no longer contractors eithers. so i'm not sure that current regulations prevent the things i mentioned.

i was discussing this with someone the other day who also uses Uber. she said she has had her taxi cab show up with the driver and two big burly dudes already in it... smoking a blunt... after she had already waited an hour. she has had her cab stop and make drug deals with her in the taxi en route to taking her home at 230 am after her shift ended at the bar.

so uber seems to attract a better kind of driver. and they must do something that makes more attractive than traditional taxi driving.

my question is how can we receive the level of service (and safety!) Uber offers while also providing the drivers, be it taxi or uber, with a better working arrangement?
posted by sio42 at 7:00 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


so uber seems to attract a better kind of driver. and they must do something that makes more attractive than traditional taxi driving.

I'm guessing snobbery, really. Uber drivers can avoid saying that they're working as cabbies; the veneer of "sharing" and the shininess of the tech aspects of it make it seem less permanent and cleaner than having to drive a smelly dirty cab in order to actually make money.
posted by jaguar at 7:18 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing snobbery, really. Uber drivers can avoid saying that they're working as cabbies; the veneer of "sharing" and the shininess of the tech aspects of it make it seem less permanent and cleaner than having to drive a smelly dirty cab in order to actually make money.

Maybe. But I don't think the tech part really has much to do with it as far as I can tell nor the "sharing". I think it's in large part that there isn't that huge chunk of money upfront everyday to lease a cab.
posted by josher71 at 10:29 AM on April 24, 2015


my question is how can we receive the level of service (and safety!) Uber offers while also providing the drivers, be it taxi or uber, with a better working arrangement?

1) labor unions (and 'consumers' ;) throwing their weight behind the right to be represented by a 'bot' -- mandatory API keys that level the playing field -- or workers building an open-source network platform of their own? "A handful of programmers are planning to build an online marketplace on Ethereum where buyers and sellers can connect without a third party and their commission."

and/or...

2) going the 'game changing' route perhaps, for those who don't want to play at screwing/joining the 1099 precariat, if i may suggest going green again: "the development of more cooperative and mutual economic enterprises, whether worker cooperatives owned and controlled by their workers, or consumer cooperatives, owned and controlled by their customers..."
posted by kliuless at 2:23 PM on April 24, 2015


I'm guessing snobbery, really. Uber drivers can avoid saying that they're working as cabbies; the veneer of "sharing" and the shininess of the tech aspects of it make it seem less permanent and cleaner than having to drive a smelly dirty cab in order to actually make money.

I don't buy the pretentiousness explanation.

I think it's more that it's actually easy to get kicked off of uber, where at least locally, i STILL see cab drivers rolling around who i know for a fact have done weird shit or acted terrible. Calling the dispatch to complain is pointless here, it's an easy way to get treated like shit. One starring someone on uber and filing a complaint generates an actual response, and from what i've heard, it's easy to get "deactivated".

So at least locally to me, a big advantage of these services is how easy it is to get kicked off. I've seen this played up as a downside, and maybe it is in some ways, but how easy it is to get kicked off if you're reported for being shitty is definitely a feature not a bug.

I do wish there was something like it being weighted to how many good ratings you've gotten in the past and stuff. But i could see issues with that too, i suppose.
posted by emptythought at 10:01 PM on April 25, 2015


Sharing and Caring - "The “sharing economy” invokes vague leftist sentiments while moving towards more precarious employment."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:16 PM on April 28, 2015


From that article (which I liked a lot):
TaskRabbit and others call their workers “micro-entrepreneurs,” but that is a poor description of precarious piecework. The preferred phrasing of “extra money” harks back to women’s jobs of forty years ago. And like those jobs, they don’t come with things like insurance protection, job security, benefits — none of that old economy stuff.
Yeah, I do wonder what would happen if people started calling these gigs "piece work" rather than "sharing."
posted by jaguar at 7:20 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Uber discontinues service in Kansas after the state legislature passes a bill requiring background checks for drivers and $1M comprehensive and collision insurace coverage .
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:31 PM on May 6, 2015


And that really illustrates the point - if what Uber is doing meets or exceeds the new standards, then it should be no problem to conform to them. In this case, that leaves only two scenarios:

1. Uber's policies don't actually meet the standard set by the Kansas government, and conforming will be costly for them.
2. Uber is philosophically against being regulated in any manner, and would rather exit a relatively small market rather than allow for creating a standard of regulation.

Which is the worse is left as an exercise for the reader.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:31 AM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


How to Socialize Uber: "Turning Uber into a worker cooperative would be surprisingly simple." (via - "turn companies like Uber into a mere provider of a software service, which would have to compete without [sic] other service providers")
posted by kliuless at 4:56 PM on May 8, 2015


I was an undercover Uber driver and rules and tricks for being an Uber driver, both by Emily Guendelsberger.
posted by exogenous at 11:12 AM on May 11, 2015


see also: Sharing insurance costs with the sharing economy (via)
One consequence of the “sharing economy” that hasn’t been widely discussed, at least as far as I’ve seen, is how the externalities are being absorbed. Specifically, insurance costs.

Maybe because it’s an ongoing process, but for both Uber and AirBnB, the companies tell individuals who drive that their primary car insurance should be in use, and they tell individual home- or apartment-dwellers that their renters insurance should apply.

In other words, if something goes wrong, the wishful thinking goes, the private, individual insurance plans should kick in.

When people have tried to verify this, however, they responses have been mixed and mostly negative. The insurance companies obviously don’t want to cover a huge number of people for circumstances they didn’t expect when they offered the coverage.

...my overall conclusion is that the new “sharing economy” businesses really will end up sharing something with the rest of us soon, namely the cost of insurance. We will all be paying more for car insurance and home- or renters-insurance if my guess is accurate.
oh and speaking of externality absorbing insurance...
posted by kliuless at 10:21 PM on May 11, 2015


« Older Payday at the Mill   |   "May you always know you are loved," I whispered. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments