Mar 23, 2020 - Economy & Business

Scoop: Uber CEO asks Trump to include drivers in economic stimulus

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Uber is asking the U.S. government to include independent contractors in its economic stimulus plans, according to a letter being sent Monday morning by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to President Trump. The company is not asking for a bailout or loans.

Why it matters: Many of the proposals floated for a relief bill that Congress is assembling have included new protections and benefits for employees, but that category excludes millions of "gig economy" drivers and delivery people.

The state of play: Khosrowshahi spoke on Friday with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has proposed "unemployment insurance on steroids," whereby laid-off employees would receive their entire salaries. As of Sunday afternoon, the outreach appears to have been effective:

Uber's CEO also reached out to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but has not yet spoken with either of them.

The big picture: Khosrowshahi writes in his letter to Trump that the coronavirus has laid bare the worker protection problems inherent in Uber's labor model, and pushes for a federal fix:

"Our laws should protect all workers, not just one type of work. While I recognize that the Administration and Congress have many pressing issues before them, I urge you to act quickly to provide protections for independent workers, and, in your ongoing efforts, to consider legislative action on a 'third way' that would update our labor laws to remove the forced choice between flexibility and protection for millions of American workers. We are already working with lawmakers and Governors in various jurisdictions across the U.S. on similar legislation that would require companies like ours to provide protections and benefits to our independent contractors...
Even when the worst of this crisis is behind us, our nation and the entire world will undoubtedly have changed. Our economy will not look the same; and if we can’t restore it, we must remake it. Business leaders like myself must rise to meet that challenge, using technology to bring economic opportunity to as many Americans as possible, while helping to resolve longstanding structural problems that have left so many people without a real safety net. Uber is ready and committed to doing our part to help foster and protect work for millions of our fellow citizens. I am counting on your leadership to help realize that promise. The world has changed. Let’s change with it."

Any such changes would not only would affect those driving or delivering for Uber, but also for such companies as Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Amazon Flex, GrubHub, or Postmates.

Flashback: Uber unveiled changes in January to try to comply with a new California law that tightened rules defining independent contractors. The company has also sued California, arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

Go deeper: The gig economy's coronavirus test

Go deeper

Coronavirus rescue bill extends unemployment benefits to gig economy

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As part of the bipartisan deal Senate leaders and the White House struck early Wednesday, unemployment benefits will be extended to groups including gig economy workers, per a statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Why it matters: This is an unprecedented expansion of benefits to gig economy workers, who have been classified as independent contractors instead of employees by ride-hailing and food delivery companies, among others.

Virus spread emphasizes precariousness of gig economy work

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While a growing number of white collar companies are asking employees to work from home, gig economy companies seem to be doing little to protect workers in the face of coronavirus — though pressure is mounting for them to do more.

Why it matters: While engineers and business managers at companies like Uber and Lyft can bring their laptops home and access corporate health resources, the independent contractors who ferry passengers, hot meals and groceries, cannot. This highlights painful differences between corporate "haves" and "have-nots."

Uber temporarily closes local hubs for drivers amid virus outbreak

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Uber has temporarily closed its U.S. and Canada Greenlight Hubs, where drivers can go to get in-person help with answering questions and completing forms, in an effort to help lessen the spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Uber and other gig economy companies have faced mounting questions over how they'll help their thousands of drivers (who are not employees) given the very social nature of their work.