D. Thayer Russell
Sep 29 · 8 min read
How rideshare companies are trying to deceive the public and write their own laws
Rideshare decals on the window of my cab. Photo by the author.
The people of California passed a law that went into effect on January 1st of this year that required gig workers to be classified by technology companies as employees compensated with minimum wage and standard benefits. This law was passed to protect the basic and fundamental rights of workers.
The major rideshare companies have refused to follow the law maintaining that they are merely platforms who provide referrals to independent contractors, arguing that the work performed by drivers is not essential to the scope of their business. Meanwhile, they profit off the business of transportation, have driven many traditional transportation options like taxis and limousine services into bankruptcy, and are some of the fastest growing companies on the stock market today.
The State of California has already passed a law to hold these greedy technology companies accountable and force them to take responsibility for the workers that make them their money. They do not simply sell technology to drivers, they take a cut out of every fare and a significant cut at that, over thirty percent in many cases. Once the state put pressure on these companies to follow the law, they threatened to shut down, slam on the brakes and suspend operations in California under the claim that they are unable to viably operate under such requirements.
It was a move intended to garner public support for Proposition 22, a bill that the companies wrote themselves that is currently on the ballot in November. If passed, the proposition would make them exempt from following a law that was already voted on and passed just a year ago in an effort to protect the basic rights of drivers and other gig workers. Proposition 22 is a deceptive law written by private corporations to protect their profits and interests and is not in the best interest of the public or drivers, despite the claims of these companies in a very misleading media campaign.
The companies poured millions into gathering signatures in front of grocery stores to get their law on the ballot paying far more per signature to collectors than the average California petition. They garnered support for that petition by claiming that they were working on behalf of the best interests of their drivers. They are paying over 100 million more in advertising trying to buy their own personal exemption from standard labor laws and practices.
If passed, such a law sets a dangerous precedent whereby other industries may begin to shift their workforce to independent contractors in an effort to cut corners and save on costs. It will require the state and the public to continue to assume much of the financial burden for employees that these companies are so desperately trying to avert.
They are trying to fleece the public and drivers by claiming that they are working on behalf of the many drivers who want to maintain the current system. The surveys that they send out to drivers to collect this data are terribly misleading, just like the constant claims on the app and in the media that they are supporting drivers during the pandemic by sending hand sanitizer, masks and other PPE out to drivers.
They threaten the loss of part-time or flexible schedules or the loss of services in California altogether as an attempt to get public support and gain advocacy in the driver community for their bill. It is another in a series of lies propagated by unethical companies. San Francisco and Los Angeles are the top two markets for rideshare business in the world. The companies will not be bailing out of California.
Working as a rideshare driver is like taking a slow loan out on your car, usually a car on which you already have a pre-existing loan. If you are a part-time driver, you don’t realize how much you are actually losing. You feel you are making money because cash is coming in – but it is also seeping out of your pocket and staining your ledger like a slow oil leak in the form of gas expenses, auto maintenance and the accumulation of mileage on your vehicle. Studies have shown that when you account for expenses, drivers make far below minimum wage.
I left the classroom after a decade plus service as a public school teacher and have been a full-time rideshare driver for nearly four years and 270,000 miles. I know exactly how the economics of this gig work. I chose to sacrifice the value of my vehicle and the value of my time for the flexibility that it granted me to care for my daughter, combined with the fact that I genuinely enjoy the job. There is tremendous value in autonomy and enjoying your work. The rideshare corporations claim that we could not maintain independence as drivers were they to be required to classify us as employees.
I have my doubts about this claim because they could simply adjust their business model. Nevertheless and despite the fact that my primary reason for choosing this profession is the flexibility, I would give all that up in a heartbeat to see my many colleagues who work full-time receive equitable pay and benefits as compensation for their labor, services that are indeed the backbone of the business of these multi-national corporations. Other countries and states have already forced the companies’ hands with regulations and requirements leading them to restructure the ways in which they operate within those jurisdictions.
I enjoy the work of driving, talking with people, and spreading joy; but being a full-time driver is difficult, primarily due to the long hours that you need to work to make a sustainable wage. I averaged six and a half days and sixty to seventy hours a week as a full-time driver, and rarely took a vacation or time to recoup when I was sick. If you are not working, you are not making money.
It has been a constant risk for one accident can ruin everything. The rideshare companies have limits to the amount that they insure me while on the job. If injured on the job, drivers can lose everything they have in a heartbeat. Drivers have to pay out of their own pockets for health insurance. Many drivers have been unable to stop working during the pandemic despite decreased demand and are consequently vulnerable to the spread of disease. These individuals have to stay on the road when they are feeling ill whether because of lack of health insurance or funds to take time off making the entire public more susceptible to the spread of disease.
The technology platforms have long avoided taking responsibility for these essential employees while simultaneously creating a market with tremendous demand for low-fare rides. Taking rideshare cars has become a cheaper option than public transportation in many scenarios and such fares could not be offered without the exploitation of drivers. Drivers are offered small bonuses for completing a certain number of rides, a number that requires them to quite frankly work unsafe hours.
As rideshare companies recruit support for their efforts to undermine the State of California’s attempts to hold them accountable, the companies are stating that drivers prefer flexible schedules at a four to one rate while maintaining that they could not continue to allow drivers to keep flexible schedules if they were to follow the law. They threaten drivers with a loss of flexibility in the application while surveying them to generate inaccurate data that reflects unrealistic support for their law.
Recent studies have actually shown that an increasing number of drivers work over thirty hours a week. I would confidently say that a significant majority of the business on these platforms is completed by the many full-time drivers out working countless hours chasing their tails like me, all while we slowly accumulate personal debt. The rideshare companies are spending millions to convince the public that this is still predominantly a part-time hustle, although they are fully aware that they have created a market that is dependent on the labor of full-time drivers.
Moreover, when these companies are not required to take responsibility for their essential employees, it means they can hire/contract as many drivers as they please, flooding the market and oversaturating it with cabs – making it even harder to earn a living as a driver. They have been doing this for years and drivers have been steadily seeing a decrease in business available despite the fact that it is a growing market.
Meanwhile, the parent company and the consumer benefit through less wait time for rides. It is amazing how quickly you can get a car to come pick you up in San Francisco or Los Angeles, or damn near anywhere on the grid in California for that matter.
These companies absurdly claim they do not make money. Their profit margins may look as such because they are constantly reinvesting their earnings into further expansion and technology development, ultimately hoping to one day replace drivers with driverless vehicles thereby further increasing profits.
The fact that one of the biggest and fastest growing technology companies on the planet can publicly claim that they are financially struggling while the company continues to grow at exponential rates is just further evidence of the unethical basis, deception and standard on which they were founded and continue to operate.
Fellow Californians, I am pleading for you to vote NO on Proposition 22 and shut down the efforts of greedy technology companies who continue to want to shoulder the burden of their business expenses onto the public and the individuals that they should be claiming as employees. Make them take responsibility for those who complete the work that makes them their money. Drivers have been fighting for fair compensation for years and had finally seen progress in the passage of AB 5, the law supporting our rights last year, only to see the companies that employ us completely ignore the law and continue to ignore us.
Do not let them buy and manipulate their way out of public responsibility. Do not allow greedy and extremely wealthy companies to make their own laws and pad their profit margins with public deception. Thank you for taking the time to hear the plea of this driver and thank you in advance for your support of all drivers and workers when you VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION 22!