The on-demand economy is at a crossroads. Today, as BuzzFeed News reported, the California Labor Commission ruled that a San Francisco Uber driver was an employee, not an independent contractor as the company claims. The commission's ruling comes just weeks after the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity determined that former Uber driver Darrin McGillis was also an employee and months after two groups of Uber and Lyft drivers filed class action suits against the companies alleging they had been misclassified as independent contractors.
As the legal battle around on-demand worker classification picks up steam, a new study suggests that there's a debate over classification among workers themselves. According to a survey of 201 on-demand workers by on-demand analytics platform SherpaShare, 63% of respondents believe they are independent contractors, and interestingly 86% of them were Uber or Lyft drivers. Specifically, 69% of drivers who worked only for Uber and 72% of drivers who worked only for Lyft said they were independent contractors.
SherpaShare's survey offers some early insight into on-demand employees' self-classification, particularly when taken together with the rationalizations driving those classifications. It's interesting, for example, that 12 survey respondents who classified themselves as employees of either Uber of Lyft cited "deactivation risks" and "lack of driver choice" to support their claims that they are not independent contractors. Said one who drives for Uber and Lyft, "Both companies use deactivation threats to control drivers."
Another worker who drives for Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar wrote, "I think if the rideshare companies didn't have things like acceptance rate, it would be easier to say we're independent. As it is, I don't feel like I can turn down a request without penalty, even if it's a pickup at a location that doesn't make sense (as the crow flies vs as the roads go) or from lower rated pax. There is also poor service to drivers when there is the rare (but it happens) issue of pax problems and/or pax rating you low out of retaliation (cause you won't do something illegal like let them drink booze or something bad for business like let them smoke)."
Still another that drives exclusively for Uber wrote, "With the guidelines and other specifications and requests Uber gives drivers, I feel like drivers are truly employees for the company. And as for the work schedule aspect of the debate, Uber does request quite frequently that drivers get on the road for events and high demand periods. Although drivers have the chance to say no or ignore these requests, saying no too often can result in deactivation, putting Uber in the position of an employer penalizing or firing their employee."
For respondents who identified themselves as independent contractors, "flexibility" and "freedom" were among the top reasons for selecting that classification. Said one who drives for Uber, "I drive when I want, for as long as I want. It's the perfect part time job." Another driver who contracts with Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and Shuddle wrote, "No schedule, can take time off at any time, no assigned areas, I completely control my work environment (MY CAR!) It is really important for me to NOT be an employee! The people who say we should do not understand the nature of the industry."
Finally, seven respondents said they'd prefer a hybrid option between the two classifications — one that includes the flexibility of being an independent contractor and some basic protections afforded employees.
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Johana Bhuiyan is a tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bhuiyan reports on the sharing economy with a focus on ridesharing companies.
Contact Johana Bhuiyan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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