The pandemic has created a scary time and has made app-based workers driving and delivering goods an essential service. It also urgently exposed that more can be done to help independent workers — it’s time to extend new protections and benefits.
Colorado drivers, like me, would benefit greatly from legislation that would guarantee drivers more benefits and a stronger safety net, while guaranteeing their independence.
On Jan. 21, Terri Gerstein of the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program — described as a program focused on “creative problem solving related to the world of work” — wrote an opinion essay for The Colorado Sun about “gig economy” companies like Uber, arguing that “low-wage workers are far better off as employees than as atomized and unprotected independent contractors.”
While I think we can all agree with her that independent work can and should be better for the thousands and thousands of workers across Colorado, as an Uber driver, I’d welcome some creative approaches that take into account what drivers want and need.
Instead of eliminating independent work altogether due to the claim that traditional employment is better than independent, listen to what the workers themselves want because we understand this issue and our voices matter.
Independent workers are parents, veterans, retirees and students, all on our own schedules. Having worked both as an employee and an independent contractor, I know that being an employee comes with tradeoffs. I also know that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be an employee and still have that flexibility we want most, which is the main benefit that brought us app-based work to begin with.
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But that doesn’t mean I don’t think changes are needed to improve independent work. I often hear people arguing that we should change the model of independent work because they assume they know what’s best for me.
What’s best for me and my family is staying independent so I can earn when, where, and for however long it works best for me.
Why do they think classifying drivers as employees is the solution when it doesn’t provide drivers what they want most: flexibility and choice? Workers shouldn’t have to choose between being independent and having benefits, like health care and retirement contributions, occupational accident insurance, income support during major crises like a pandemic, and discrimination protections.
Last summer, Uber put out a proposal that all gig-economy companies be required to provide benefits and protections for independent contractors, while still providing drivers freedom and flexibility. I am only one voice, but am also one of the 89% of drivers who agree the plan Uber proposed last year is a better alternative than forcing drivers to be employees.
Uber is not perfect; what industry or type of work is? The company knows there needs to be changes and is calling on state and local governments to work together and create new laws that give all workers and drivers like me the protections we deserve.
I believe it’s important to hear from independent workers on what we need and want. I encourage Colorado lawmakers and policymakers to listen to independent workers and create better work, without taking away what we want most: flexibility and freedom to work when and where we want.
Rob Parmentier has been a Denver-based rideshare driver with Uber for five years.
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