This post is part of an ongoing series on labor and the gig economy.
Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California has set a trial date of June 20, 2016 for O’Connor v. Uber, the major federal suit challenging Uber’s classification of drivers as independent contractors. The Wall Street Journal reports that five weeks have been set aside for the jury trial. The Journal also profiled Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney representing Uber drivers in the suit as well as other gig economy workers in separate misclassification actions.
Uber drivers in the United Kingdom have joined their American counterparts in challenging Uber’s worker classification model. According to BBC News, more than 100 British Uber drivers are looking to take action, and 4 have already filed suit. Drivers there are classified as self-employed, while those taking action believe they should have worker status, a third classification in the U.K. in between independent contractor and employee. Worker status would allow for benefits and protections such as a minimum wage and leave. BuzzFeed further notes that “the drivers’ primary argument is that Uber exerts control over how they perform their rides all the way down to the routes that they should take — a right that is legally reserved for an employer.”
Several gig economy firms have signed on to a “Good Work Code” developed by the National Domestic Workers Alliance consisting of 8 values the signers believe “can guide the online economy in creating good work.” The values are: Safety, Stability & Flexibility, Transparency, Shared Prosperity, A Livable Wage, Inclusion & Input, Support & Connection, and Growth & Development. Money reports that “Q, LeadGenius, Care, Unlimited, CareLink, SketchDeck, WorkGenius, Amara, DoorDash, VetPronto, Peers, and Sama School have all signed on,” but many of the largest gig firms such as Uber, Lyft, Handy, and TaskRabbit have not. Writing for Fast Company, Sarah Kessler looks at the companies that signed off on the Good Work Code and compares it to the coalition letter reported by OnLabor last week. In case you missed it, OnLabor also highlighted Lydia DePillis’ commentary on the coalition letter.
A new research paper alleges that Uber’s algorithm is more of a boss of drivers than the company cares to admit. The Wall Street Journal summarizes the findings by Alex Rosenblat and Luke Stark at the Data and Society Research Institute. Notably, “the company’s algorithm uses performance metrics, scheduling prompts, behavioral suggestions, dynamic prices, and information asymmetry ‘as a substitute for direct managerial power and control.’” Furthermore, Uber’s rating system “lets Uber ‘achieve an organization where the workforce behaves relatively homogeneously’ without needing a manager to bark orders.” The researchers also found that Uber’s software controls when and where drivers work, actively shaping the driver marketplace.
The Washington Business Journal has more on Senator Mark Warner’s efforts to look into the gig economy. Warner believes policymakers need to get ahead of partisanship and litigation in possibly creating a third classification of workers separate from employees and independent contractors.
In other Uber news, Quartz reports that Uber is looking at offering bank accounts to drivers. Uber has reached out to partners who would handle the banking. Uber would provide a mechanism for new drivers to register for a bank account or prepaid card, and provide same-day payments as well as other possible services like cash-back discounts and merchant offers.
In commentary, Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel writes in The Atlantic that the debate over the gig economy detracts from discussion over central workplace issues. Mishel cites data suggesting that Uber and the gig economy’s impact on the labor market is minor, noting Professor Sachs’ arguments that drivers should be classified as employees are persuasive. Mishel argues that more important challenges for the workplace include wage stagnation, the fissuring of the workplace, and the erosion of retirement systems. He concludes that “when thinking through the future of work, the focus should mostly be on fixing those policies—not on a high-profile company and a gig workforce that represent a much smaller sliver of the economy than people believe.”