By classifying its drivers as independent contractors, Uber saves lots of money on benefits. It’s a central pillar of the ride-hailing company’s business model. But at Recode’s Code Conference, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company is looking into offering some form of benefits package to its drivers.
Khosrowshahi said Uber wants to “think about independent workers not being a second-class citizen,” and that the company is looking at ways to “economically build our benefits package and insurance so that this can be a safer way of living, while at the same time, being your own boss.” The Uber CEO said drivers in Europe already get insurance.
Uber and other ride-hailing companies have been criticized for using drivers’ status as independent contractors as an excuse to take advantage of them. Uber has repeatedly insisted that most of its drivers work relatively few hours in between other jobs, or personal obligations like school or raising children. The company’s position has been that most drivers don’t rely on ride-hailing services as their primary source of income and that the more flexible freelancer arrangement is in their best interest.
But not everyone buys that argument. While a federal judge recently ruled that Uber drivers are contractors, not employees, and thus not entitled to benefits, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has subpoenaed documents from both Uber and rival Lyft as part of an investigation into driver pay. Herrera said he wanted to ensure Uber and Lyft are meeting standards laid out in a recent California Supreme Court decision requiring companies to affirmatively prove that workers are independent contractors.
Uber has made more of an effort to help out its drivers recently, but offering insurance and benefits would be a major change for the company, one that could be a boon to its drivers. Yet Uber’s ultimate goal remains to replace human drivers with autonomous cars. While its self-driving car program is currently stalled in the wake of a fatal crash, Uber hopes to resume testing soon.
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