There is no question that thanks to the internet and technology, the face of the workforce in America is changing. No longer beholden to the nine to five office job or climbing a corporate ladder, people are finding more flexible ways to balance making a living, with living their lives to the fullest. Apps like Uber are one such example. By working for Uber, an average American can support themselves financially with nothing more than a cell phone, a driver’s license, and their car.
The problem is that as work-life boundaries are blurred, benefits and things like job security are not as easy to come by. In the past, if you were injured while working, the employer would be responsible for your injuries. When working for “Uber”, what happens if you injure yourself while driving someone around in your own car?
This past September, nearly 14,000 drivers working for either Lyft or Uber in New York joined forces. Those who work through tech-driven apps are being labelled “gig economy” workers. These workers who take to their automobiles out on the road daily to make a living, are heading up a push to unite and seek entitlement to the same rights as payroll employees. They, in unison, submitted union cards to be organized through an agency named Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 1181.
Similar battles have been waged across the US. In Seattle, a recent ordinance gave app-driven service drivers, personal drivers, and taxicab drivers, the right to unionize. In April, the Teamsters Union combined with the App-Based Drivers Association (ABDA) gave Uber drivers in California the right to petition for legal support and tax benefits.
Many people who work for Uber, Lyft, or similar apps hope that they may be able to submit workers’ compensation claims, in the same manner that traditional employees do. Workers in the transit industry face higher illness and injury rates than any other blue collar jobs. Driving for a living leads to all sorts of organ issues, kidney problems, and back disorders. Uber drivers are no different from other types of transit workers when it comes to work-related injuries.
A Work injury attorney states that according to federal law, employers are not required to provide retirement, social security, or health benefits to any independent contractors that they use. The entire Uber and Lyft fleet of drivers throughout the country are classified as independent contractors. Although these workers are capable of getting insurance through the Affordable Care Act, or other benefits through freelance-tailored businesses like Stride, many app-based contractor companies are finding themselves slammed with accusations of worker exploitation. Not only do they not provide traditional securities, they have also decreased their drivers’ wages by as much as 35% as per statistics published in February 2016.
Although Uber and Lyft drivers have not been independently studied, similar transportation industry workers like taxi drivers face homicide rates as much as 21-33% greater than other occupations. Being along in a car and carrying large amounts of cash can put them at risk of danger and harm.
The only saving grace that app-based technology affords Uber drivers, which taxi drivers do not have, is that both the driver and the rider are prescreened. This feature can lower the incidence of robbery and violence. Uber drivers also don’t need to carry cash. The app allows for credit card transactions, so drivers are not lugging around a lot of money that could make them the target of a robbery.
In New York alone, there are over 48,000 Uber drivers. Although they are independent contractors, they are entitled to workers’ compensation cover in the state of New York. San Francisco is another region where app-based drivers are covered by workers’ comp.
Even if app-based drivers are covered under workers’ compensation in many states, the prospects of getting reimbursed for injuries is bleak. A recent report on the state of workers’ compensation benefits by the Department of Labor found that it may only provide for as little as s 20% of the cost of an injury on the average. That means that if you are injured on the job, you are likely to succumb to poverty and a downward spiral.
As freelance jobs continue to flood the internet and smartphones across the nation, workers’ compensation benefits and their definitions need to be reevaluated, discussed, and revamped to meet the demands of a growing app-based workforce.