A few months ago, The Sun published an op-ed about a carpool driver from Colorado who claimed to represent a group of other drivers. The author of that article appears to be expressing the views of “Big Gig” companies like Uber and Lyft, not mine or other drivers.
He said Colorado should follow Washington state and California, where Big Gig has spent hundreds of millions of dollars supporting laws and ballot measures that would exclude Uber and Lyft drivers from the standard minimum wage that covers other workers, among other things outside of protection. According to the columnist, this is necessary because we need to protect the “flexibility” and “independence” of drivers.
I am a rideshare driver and a member of the Colorado Independent Drivers Coalition, a group of transportation and delivery workers in Colorado that actually represent drivers, not companies, and are working to build collective power against corporate abuses. Everyone wants flexibility and independence. But we are writing to raise our voices and tell Coloradoans that what the company says is a lie about the flexibility and independence they give us.
These companies control almost everything about my job, including how, where and when I pick up my car. I can’t set my fare, and oftentimes I don’t even know how much I’m going to make on the ride until I’m forced to. What kind of independent business?
My boss is not sitting in the office watching me go to work. My boss is an algorithm monitoring my every move. These companies use the data they collect about me and my clients to ensure they can charge their clients as much as possible and pay me as little as possible.
The difference between the amount they charge the customer and the amount they pay me is called the company’s “acceptance rate.” This is how they make money. But they didn’t even tell me or my clients how much money they actually made for themselves when the client paid them. I usually only know how much the client is paying the company if they are kind enough to tell me.
Stripping us of our basic minimum wage and protections against discrimination will not help anyone but the company. In California, the companies have more control over drivers once they spend millions on a campaign to create loopholes in California worker protections. Wages for California drivers have dropped to around $6.20 an hour following changes to California law. It is difficult for drivers to make ends meet, especially given the current cost of living. Some customers may feel like they’re paying more for Uber and Lyft rides or Doordash deliveries than they did a few years ago, but those extra fees appear to be going to the company, not the driver.
This is the experience of drivers across the country. A friend of mine who drives for one of these companies said he recently made about $16 or $17 from the city center to the airport, but the client told him they had paid about $50. Of course, we’re not sure how often this happens, as companies don’t tell drivers or customers what percentage of each job they take on for themselves.
My fellow riders and members of the Colorado Independent Riders League are fighting back. Last December, we sent a letter to Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission, asking the agency to enforce Colorado law requiring Big Gig to disclose to drivers and customers the “methods” they use to set rates and disclose to drivers in what they do for us. Estimated fare before arranging the trip.
Providing this information to drivers and customers, in addition to telling customers and drivers how much money the company makes from each ride, is the basic minimum level of transparency that companies owe each of us. But in order to increase profits and control drivers and customers as much as possible, the companies don’t even do that.
The lobbying efforts of these companies around the world, built on the lie of “flexibility”, are a danger to all of us, whether or not we’ve ever tried to make a living for one of these companies. While Colorado-based Big Gig may currently focus on shipping and delivery, the model could expand to almost any type of job.
If we say that powerful companies can control and manipulate their workers through algorithms without being accountable to those workers as employers, then every worker in this state is likely to be controlled, supervised, and manipulated by hidden algorithms without their usual will get any protection in the workplace.
We want the big show companies to give us autonomy. We want them to provide transparency to customers and drivers. But none of that is going to happen with the laws that their lobbyists created to exclude me and my driver-partners from hard worker protections. This will only happen if we demand transparency, enforce the law and force these companies to abide by the same rules that everyone else must abide by.
Michael Machar lives in Denver.
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