Several months ago, The Sun published a column from a rideshare driver in Colorado who claimed to be representing a group of other drivers. The author of that piece seemed to be expressing the views of the “Big Gig” companies like Uber and Lyft, and not the views of me or other drivers.
He said Colorado should follow Washington State and California where the Big Gig companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support laws and ballot measures that carve Uber and Lyft drivers out of protections like the standard minimum hourly wage that covers other workers. This is necessary, according to the columnist, because we need to protect drivers’ “flexibility” and “independence.”
I am a rideshare driver and member of Colorado Independent Drivers United, a group of transportation and delivery workers in Colorado that actually represents drivers, not the companies, and that is working to build collective power to respond to the companies’ abuses of power. Everyone wants flexibility and independence. But we are writing to raise our voices and tell Coloradans that the flexibility and independence the companies say they give us is a lie.
The companies control virtually everything about my work including how, where, and when I pick up rides. I can’t set my fares and I often do not even know how much money I am going to make on a ride before I am effectively forced to accept it. What kind of independent business is that?
My boss isn’t sitting in an office watching me punch into work. My boss is an algorithm watching every move I make. The companies use data they collect about me and my customers to make sure that they can charge the customer as much as possible and pay me as little as possible.
The difference between the amounts they charge customers and pay me is called the companies’ “take rate.” It is how they make money. But they aren’t even telling me or my customers how much they’re actually taking for themselves when the customer pays them. I usually can only learn how much the customer is paying the company if the customer is kind enough to tell me.
Denying us basic minimum wages and protections against discrimination will not help anyone except the companies. In California, once the companies spent millions of dollars on a campaign to create a loophole in California worker protections, the companies controlled drivers even more. And after the change in California law, wages for drivers in California have gone down to around $6.20 per hour. It’s so hard for drivers to make ends meet, especially with the cost of living where it currently is. Some customers may feel like they are paying more for Uber and Lyft rides or Doordash deliveries than they were a few years ago, but that extra pay seems to be going to the companies, not to drivers.
This is the experience of drivers around the country. A friend of mine driving for one of the companies said he made around $16 or $17 from downtown to the airport recently, but the customer told him they had paid around $50. Of course, we don’t know for sure how often this is happening because the companies don’t tell drivers or customers what percentage of each job they are taking for themselves.
My fellow drivers and members of Colorado Independent Drivers United are fighting back. In December of last year, we sent a letter to the Public Utilities Commission in Colorado asking that agency to enforce Colorado laws that require the Big Gig companies to disclose to drivers and customers the “method” they use to set rates and to disclose to drivers an estimated fare before they assign us a ride.
Providing drivers and customers with that information, in addition to telling customers and drivers how much money the companies are taking from each ride, is the basic minimum transparency the companies owe each of us. But to grow profits and to control drivers and customers as much as possible, the companies are not even doing that.
The companies’ lobbying efforts 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 driving for one of these companies. While Big Gig companies in Colorado may for now be focused on transportation and delivery, the model could expand to almost any kind of work.
If we say that powerful companies can control and manipulate their workers through algorithms without being responsible to those workers as employers, every worker in this state could be subjected to the control, supervision, and manipulation of hidden algorithms without any of the protections they would normally have in a workplace.
We want Big Gig companies to give us autonomy. We want them to give customers and drivers transparency. But none of that will happen by passing laws written by their lobbyists to exclude me and my fellow drivers from hard-fought worker protections. It can only happen if we demand transparency, enforce the laws on the books, and force these companies to play by the same rules everyone else must follow.
Michael Machar lives in Denver.
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