How gig economy giants are trying to keep workers classified as independent contractors

Now that 2020 has started, Uber, DoorDash and Lyft are taking additional steps to undermine a new California law that would help more gig workers qualify as full-time employees. These moves entail product changes, lawsuits and ramped-up efforts to get a ballot initiative in front of voters that would roll back the new legislation.

Let’s start with the most recent development; yesterday, Uber sent a note to users announcing that it’s getting rid of upfront pricing in favor of estimated prices, unless they’re Uber Pool rides.

“Due to a new state law, we are making some changes to help ensure that Uber remains a dependable source of flexible work for California drivers,” Uber wrote in an email to customers. “These changes may take some getting used to, but our goal is to keep Uber available to as many qualified drivers as possible, without restricting the number of drivers who can work at a given time.”

Uber says it also has to discontinue rewards benefits like price protection on a route and flexible cancellations for trips in California. For drivers, that means they won’t see estimated earnings and drivers in surge arteas will no longer see fixed dollar amounts.

“AB5 threatens to restrict or eliminate opportunities for independent workers across a wide spectrum of industries, including trucking, freelance journalism and ridesharing,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “As a result of AB5, we’ve made a number of product changes to preserve flexible work for tens of thousands of California drivers. At the same time, we’ve put forward a progressive package of new protections for drivers, including guaranteed minimum earnings and benefits, so voters can choose to truly improve flexible work in November.”

While Uber is essentially saying this is something the company must do, it’s worth noting that this is not some requirement of the new law; this is Uber’s attempt to beef up its case that it’s legally allowed to classify drivers as independent contractors. Since much of the rationale for determining whether or not a worker is an employee comes down to control, removing upfront fares and ditching penalties for rejecting fares could help Uber make a case that its drivers are operating on their own accord.