The prob­lem with Uber

The app’s con­ve­nience is not worth en­dors­ing pre­car­i­ous work

The McGill Daily - - Commentary - Kiara Bernard Com­men­tary Writer

Even though I am a taxi fiend, I have never per­son­ally taken an Uber. But a lot of my friends do, and when they hear I need to take a taxi some­where, they of­fer to call me an Uber. I al­ways po­litely de­cline. No thanks, I’ll just take any old taxi as long as it gets me to where I’m go­ing.

I might be naive to think that there is ab­so­lutely no dif­fer­ence be­tween a ride in a reg­u­lar Mon­treal taxi and an Uber. How­ever, the truth is, I don’t trust Uber just yet. Call­ing a taxi from an app is cool, no doubt, and def­i­nitely beats wav­ing down a taxi from the curb just to re­al­ize some­one else is al­ready in it. But the nov­elty of Uber – and its lower cost – is over­shad­owed by the harsh re­al­ity it has cre­ated for its work­ers.

Re­cently, there’s been a lot of talk about the regulation of Uber in Que­bec, with the de­bate pri­mar­ily fo­cused on the im­pact of Uber on the taxi in­dus­try. Ev­i­dently, the hype around Uber has usurped cus­tomers from reg­u­lar taxi ser­vice providers.

But the main prob­lem, in my eyes, is not how Uber af­fects the taxi in­dus­try; rather, I can’t sup­port a taxi ser­vice that ex­ploits its work­ers. I’m not be­hind the times or op­posed to tech­no­log­i­cal progress be­cause I stand against Uber. Rather, I am sim­ply act­ing in sol­i­dar­ity with its work­ers.

While the ben­e­fit of work­ing for Uber is be­ing able to choose your own hours, among other things, the com­pany worth bil­lions is reap­ing up to 28 per cent of each worker’s earn­ings. In ad­di­tion, Uber does not cover its drivers’ gas or car up­keep ex­penses. On the job-rat­ing site In­deed, Uber drivers have re­ported that, at the end of the day, they end up mak­ing less than min­i­mum wage.

Uber’s drivers are not em­ployed by Uber – the com­pany prefers to think of them as “part­ners.” This means that they don’t have any of the ben­e­fits that a com­pany em­ployee would typ­i­cally have, such as in­sur­ance or va­ca­tion days. Their work sit­u­a­tion is also very pre­car­i­ous – they are at risk of be­ing de­ac­ti­vated (in essence, fired) when their pas­sen­ger rat­ing dips be­low 4.7 out of 5.

I don’t want to eco­nom­i­cally sup­port Uber, be­cause by do­ing so, I would be­come com­plicit in putting the com­pany’s work­ers in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion.

I would, how­ever, sup­port a sim­i­lar ser­vice where the work­ers would re­tain their fair share of earn­ings. It could still use an app, but its at­trac­tion to po­ten­tial cus­tomers would not be lim­ited to con­ve­nience and low cost; it would also in­clude the so­cial ben­e­fits of the ser­vice.

An ex­am­ple of an ideal com­pany would be a drivers’ co­op­er­a­tive – one that en­sures its work­ers’ se­cu­rity with em­ployee ben­e­fits, is com­mit­ted to its drivers, and pro­vides them with a stake in the com­pany’s man- age­ment. While Uber is un­likely to reach this ideal, it must im­prove the work­ing con­di­tions of its drivers, and show the same loy­alty to its work­ers as the work­ers do to it.

Uber’s work­ers are or­di­nary peo­ple who are look­ing to make a liv­ing; the con­ve­nience and lower price of Uber comes at the cost of these work­ers be­ing taken ad­van- tage of. This is why I choose not to use Uber un­til it changes the way it treats its work­ers, and you should do the same.

Kiara Bernard is a U2 Phi­los­o­phy, World Re­li­gions, and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions stu­dent. To con­tact her, email kiara.bernard@mail.

mcgill.ca.

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