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New Economy
Uber Drivers to California: We’re Entrepreneurs

On the heels of the California Labor Commission’s decision that drivers for the ride-sharing company Uber are employees rather than independent contractors, a new survey indicates that this is not, in fact, the way the majority of drivers see themselves. From Politico:

But before you assume that that would be a victory for the workers, there’s one other key thing to know: Drivers actually disagree with this. A new survey found that by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, workers in the sharing economy consider themselves independent contractors, not employees.

The data comes from SherpaShare, a company founded in 2014 that provides a platform for workers in the sharing economy to organize their expenses and better understand their earnings. (SherpaShare is independent of companies in the sharing economy.) The company’s survey queried 201 drivers, mostly for Uber and Lyft, explained the context of the legal debate, and asked whether the workers considered themselves independent contractors or employees. Sixty three percent considered themselves independent contractors while 35.5 percent considered themselves an employee.

If the data gathered are reliable, it strikes us as silly that the Labor Commission will seek protective policies for workers who do not desire them. As our economy shifts away from the traditional model of long-term, stable employment towards one of individual entrepreneurialism, we need policies that empower these enterprising workers, not shackle them with outmoded classifications.

It has become increasingly apparent that, as technological innovations continue to disrupt and (in many cases) improve our lot, our governmental institutions at best maintain the status quo, and at worst drag us back to the past. Smart policymakers will be keen to thwart this trend.

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  • Ramone Love

    I know from personal experience with Uber that some of what they require of their ‘independent contractors’ is indistinguishable from a traditional employer. Uber’s oft-repeated claim that they are simply a platform that connects drivers and passengers is quite simply untrue. They dictate what type of cars are to be used, what type of insurance you need and should consider obtaining, how often you operate, offer incentives and deals on insurance to its drivers, advice on how to dress, what amenities to offer passengers etc. I do not pass judgment on whether this is a good or bad thing; nobody forces one to become an Uber driver. But Uber’s public position that they are simply some neutral middle man connecting people is false and lends itself to legal judgments like this. They and others like it are something new and existing law may not be able distinguish that new paradigm. The disruption of the taxi cartels is a good thing, I believe. But there are, as in many things, different aspects that can and should be carried over. For instance, driver’s should have commercial insurance, mainly for their own protection since most standard policies will not pay out if it is discovered you were acting as a paid driver and your passenger is injured as a result of riding with you. They already perform background checks, but those could be a little more in-depth than they currently are. Safety checks being performed depend on what state they operate in. Uber is opportunistic in the sense that they will only require the minimum needed to get by in each particular venue and blindly fight any attempt at regulation. I would suggest that both Uber and regulatory agencies should take a step back and consider new approaches.

    • FriendlyGoat

      The only possible way Uber can be said to be worth $40,000,000,000 is if it can skirt the responsibilities normally associated with being an employer. This implies that the sub-contractors are contributing some actual value for which they are not being compensated and that some of that value will partially disappear if Uber has to do the normally-expected things that other employers routinely do. Other businesses ought to be looking at this and saying, “like heck we’re paying Social Security, unemployment and workers’ comp and you’re not”.

  • fastrackn1

    The last thing we need is big brother deciding who is an employee and who is not, for this or any other industry. If the any of the Uber employees have a problem with Uber directing them to the point that they feel as if they are employees, then they can quit and try something else. If they want to be completely self-employed, then they should go out on their own and start from scratch with their own business…that is what I did 40+ years ago.
    There are many ‘sub contractors’ in many fields that are given all their work by one company and don’t really have to truly go it on their own. If someone wants to be self-employed and yet spoon fed all their work by one company, then they shouldn’t complain, they are basically getting the security of constant work as a trade off for losing some freedom of self-direction. The government doesn’t need to get involved in this type of situation.

    The only way to get true personal freedom is to start from scratch yourself and build it from the ground up….

    • FriendlyGoat

      A fine situation for some people. Meanwhile, employees in America probably number over 100 million. They do not define themselves as employees or not. The characteristics of the relationship they have with whomever is paying them defines whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor. If it walks and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

      • fastrackn1

        Yes, a fine situation for those who want to be self employed is to be self employed.
        If people want to be self employed but have 1 company spoon feed then all their work, like Uber, then work for a company like that. And for those who do not want to be self employed then they can work for a company who hires employees in the typical manner. People are smart enough to know when they are working in a typical employee manner, or if they are independent contractors. They don’t need the government to decide for them (more coddling by the nanny state).
        If someone doesn’t like how Uber operates, then quit and find work in a fashion that suits what you are looking for. But don’t work for Uber and then whine about it. No one is being forced to work at Uber.
        The worst thing is for the government to get involved in anything. They are already too involved in what companies can and can’t do, we don’t need more government, we need less…much, much less….

        • FriendlyGoat

          Most employers would call most employees independent contractors if they were allowed to do so. They would escape all the protections and group benefits that we the people have enacted for employees. That’s why government is the umpire, NOT a loosey-goosey deal where each player is his own umpire.

          Uber is skirting and needs to be reined in.

          • fastrackn1

            Yes you are right that many more employers would if allowed to. I am just not in agreement that they shouldn’t be able to. I don’t think that the laws are just, and are more of the old Blue Model mentality that is hopefully dying as is being stated so often.
            We have went from being a nation of self-employed to a nation of employees (dependent on the government for every aspect of their lives), over the last 100+ years, and that has created a culture of self entitled brats in this country. People did just fine back then when they ran their own small businesses without constant interference from big brother, while also learning how to be more independent, gratified for making their own way, and in charge of their futures.

            Hopefully Uber will tweak it’s relationship with those who work for them just enough to stay outside of the laws.

          • FriendlyGoat

            There is really NOTHING bad to be said for successful self-employment. I did a little of it (less than you), and as you always imply, it is the ultimate freedom for those who can do it. No argument.

            But surely we can agree that there are 500 large corporations in the famous S&P 500, plus thousands more other public companies, plus hundreds of thousands of privately-held corporations, plus all the public-sector entities. They have employees. It is the norm for MOST of the American work force. It is not just a dying “blue model.”

          • fastrackn1

            Yes, sadly being an employee is the norm for most,,,but it didn’t used to be.
            My point is that I believe that there are many more ‘who can do it’, than are doing it, because as I stated before, we have become a nation of employees instead of the way it was many years ago when a much larger percent of the population was self-employed, especially in small business. People got along fine then and raised families quite well when things were that way, so I believe it to be the best for most of us. I think that the model of going to college and getting a job that has been pumped into us for so many years has created a very thin skinned, whiny, population. It has become an us against them relationship between employer and employee. And also, there are far too many ‘benefits’ in the workplace. Now it’s all about gimmie, gimmie, gimmie, I want more for me instead of just putting your head down and getting busy.
            There has been a large upsurge in self-employment since the start of the internet, and as stated in the article above, the way people are finding employment is changing and not the old union heavy, benefit oriented, ways of old…what I refer to as Blue Model Mentality.

            I am aware of all the large corporations (and I wish many would just dissolve and be replaced with smaller companies…which are always better for employees to work for), however small businesses do employ the most people in the US by far, and they really struggle under the weight of government regulations and the over-use of employee rights….

          • FriendlyGoat

            You are in a line of work where contracting is the norm. It would be hard to replicate that in just all fields such retail, food service, education, manufacturing and others.

            I “hear you” on why it can be a better life for some workers. I hope you hear why it would be a much worse life for many workers. Being a contract busboy with no security, no rights, no government benefits and no employer benefits, and no norms of employer behavior just doesn’t sound like any fun at all.

          • fastrackn1

            I didn’t mean for all types of work, but for more than there is now. I think more independence in the work place would be better for the overall mental health of many. We have over the years, become way too dependent on government and employers (mostly because of government), and are a complete nanny society. How much coddling does an adult need? And just try to take some of this coddling away and people whine like a steam engine. Look at the population of Greece crying because they are losing some of their benefits.

            As I said before, it didn’t used to be that way 100 years ago, and I think people were happier, more well adjusted, and more able to handle what life throws at them, than they are now….

          • FriendlyGoat

            I would agree with you on this in several respects. When we were a much more agriculture-based society 100 years ago, there was a lot more room for people to be self-employed on their properties. The same thing may have been true of certain “cottage industries” where you make things at home and sell them. Some people still do it with arts, crafts, etc. But, larger competition makes the home-based thing harder and harder to do successfully. Writing, consulting, and brokering endeavors may still be exceptions which work well for some number of people.

            Separately, a problem with the American employment relationship is that, in most places, either party can terminate it at any time for any reason or no reason—–so-called employment at will. As you know, real contracting relationships are somewhat different, where each party has actually committed to perform a specific job or to pay a specific amount. Either side just saying “I quit” is often more entailed with consequences.

            Net, net, I think lots of people are going to be employees. We can agree that many who successfully escape that status will be happier. It’s really cool to have one’s “own thing” that is working out.

          • fastrackn1

            While we may not always agree on what is the worst thing that is happening to the little guy in the work place over the years, and we may not always agree what would be the best solution or direction, we do agree that the little guy is getting screwed big time and that change needs to happen fast.

            While I believe that ‘Trickle Down’ theory is in some ways correct, I don’t think a ball player making 10 million a year, and a team owner making $500 million a year, helps the little guy when the little guy has to spend $400 to take his family to the ball park for 2 hours….

          • FriendlyGoat

            I think we can both imagine pro-level ball players being willing to go to the park and entertain people if somehow they couldn’t make more than $200,000-$300,000 a year (like many to most doctors) doing it and their owners couldn’t make more than small fractions of what they now make. We used to be there.
            All the ball players of the 1950’s and some of the 1960’s would remember those days when pay was “good” compared to other lines of work but not in the stratosphere (at the expense of the fans and the customers of advertisers on the TV side.) I have my own theory of how/why this has changed, and I will spare you my political preaching about that.

          • fastrackn1

            It’s all being funneled to the top all around us and from every direction, and most don’t even realize how it is happening. Most are focused on politics but politics are not the issue, not even close.
            Someday there will probably be just one global corporation that will control everything.

            “We used to be there.”

            We ‘used to be there’ with everything at one time.
            I figure my grandparents, who were born just after the turn of the century, grew up during the best of times regarding lifestyle, mind set, and technology (barring medical)….

          • FriendlyGoat

            The collective “we” need to “realize how it is happening”. We’re past the point of just throwing up our hands in wonder and declaring that we can’t understand what we should understand.

          • fastrackn1

            Yes we do!

            The problem is getting them off their sofas…and their ATV’s…unfortunately, luxury breeds complacency….

      • Boritz

        An employer is someone who is required by law to provide their employees with a W2. This is defined by the government.

        “If it walks and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

        I prefer “A is A” — Ayn Rand, but okay.

        • FriendlyGoat

          There are actually many circumstantial tests used to determine who is an employee and who is not. Ayn Rand has nothing to do with them. But you mentioning her helps me understand why you and I are usually pretty far apart on about anything.

  • Ali Zabouti

    Okay, I’ll bite. How does believing that you are an “independent contractor” imply that you want to be one? Did the survey ask what relationship Uber drivers would like to have with Uber? I couldn’t find the exact question on their website.

  • nervous122

    If you think that the laws are meant to protect the workers, instead of to exert even more control over the economy, then you are mistaken.

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