This column is an opinion of Paris Marx, socialist writer and host of the Tech Won’t Save Us podcast. For more information on the UKTN Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
Giant Uber recently announced its Flexible Work + plan, which it calls “a modern approach to application-based work in Canada.” The company calls on provincial governments to change labor laws so that on-demand workers accumulate “benefit funds”.,“That he proposes that they could spend on things like health insurance, pensions and education expenses.”
At first glance, this may seem like an improvement. Workers in the odd-job economy face precarious and dangerous working conditions, and many don’t even have a human manager to turn to – their manager is often the algorithm that distributes the work on an app. A contingency fund could apparently help them.
But that is not the driving force behind this proposal.
Uber could offer labor benefits and protections to workers tomorrow if it wanted to, but the company’s business model is based on treating workers as entrepreneurs rather than employees. Uber is still losing billions of dollars every year after more than a decade of operation, and keeping driver compensation low while raising prices for customers is the only way to hope to turn a profit.
The president of the Canadian branch of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Paul Meinema, said that Uber “avoids the fact that they are the employer and that its workers are employees who are entitled to full protection and the labor rights in force. . “
If provincial governments change their labor laws in line with Uber’s proposal, they will cement the idea that on-demand workers are not employees and can be denied minimum wages, sick days, etc. access to employment insurance and the same rights and protections as most other workers.
When Uber announced the Flexible Work + plan, it suggested that workers wanted what it offered and cited an Uber survey on job satisfaction, even though the questionnaire did not ask about benefits, union rights or job classification.
In response, the Gig Workers United advocacy group criticized the investigation and cited delivery courier Brice Sopher who said the plan was “nothing more than a Prop 22 North – to prevent Canadian workers from get organized and to allow Uber to avoid facing the real problems of lower wages and precariousness. “
Proposition 22 is a voting initiative championed by Uber and other employers in concert that passed in California in November. Here is a brief history:
- In 2018, a California Supreme Court ruling effectively recognized that many contract workers should be classified as employees. This was enacted by the state legislature, effective January 1, 2020.
- Gig-economy companies refused to implement it, and in May 2020 the attorney general sued Uber and Lyft.
- A judge ruled in August that they should comply, but by that time the companies were working with other employers on the Prop 22 voting initiative, and after Lyft and Uber threatened to halt operations in the state, the California Court of Appeals intervened and work was ultimately suspended until after the November vote.
- After an aggressive US $ 200 million advertising campaign by small economy businesses, Proposition 22 was passed. She rewrote state labor laws to formalize the status of performing workers as independent contractors with very limited benefits.
Proposition 22 was presented to voters as an improvement for workers on the stage, even as it nullified the employment rights these workers had won over years of campaigning, and was opposed by advocacy groups like Rideshare Drivers United and Gig Workers Collective. After the measure was adopted, some workers said their wages had actually gone down and many could not qualify for the new benefits due to the working time required to access them.
Meanwhile, even though companies have warned that prices will rise if Proposition 22 is rejected, services such as DoorDash, Uber Eats and Postmates have implemented new fees after its adoption that they say were needed to cover benefits.
Recognize construction workers as employees
Proposition 22 provides an edifying narrative as provincial governments reflect on how to respond to Uber’s Flexible Work + proposal and competing demands by performing workers for the right to organize and be recognized as than employees.
And it’s not just construction workers who could be affected. Prior to the passage of Proposition 22 in California, union activists warned that it would allow companies beyond the odd-job economy to start shifting work from employees to contractors – and that’s exactly what happened.
Since the classification of construction workers as contractors is now codified in California law, other companies may begin to use it. Earlier this year, non-union delivery men at a state-owned grocery chain were told they were being laid off, for example, and replaced by independent contractors working for DoorDash.
If Uber is successful in pushing for the same kind of legislation in Canada, workers in other industries may also have their occupations reclassified in the direction of flexible working +, which affects their rights, benefits and wages.
This debate is not just happening in Canada. A UK Supreme Court ruling recently concluded that Uber drivers should not be considered self-employed. Subsequently, Uber reclassified its 70,000 UK drivers as workers (a separate category of “employee”), but refused to provide all of the wages and rights set out in the ruling, paving the way for another legal challenge.
Courts in Italy and Amsterdam recently ruled that app-based food delivery people are employees, and Spain has introduced new legislation to the same effect.
Companies like Uber have categorized their workers as contractors for years, which helps them grow quickly and eliminate their competition by undervaluing their services. However, the legal tide is against Uber and its desire to keep its workers classified as contractors, with a study of more than 40 decisions in 20 countries finding that courts tend to rule in favor of workers.
This is precisely why he is launching lobbying campaigns for new labor laws in the United States, Canada and Europe, such as those adopted by Proposition 22 in California.
After a pandemic where these workers risked their health to deliver things like meals and groceries, provinces should recognize their essential work by following the lead of courts and governments in other countries taking action to protect them with the status of employees.