Home | About | Donate

Uber and Lyft Notch Another Corporate Victory in the Global Exploitation of ‘Gig Workers’

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/11/10/uber-and-lyft-notch-another-corporate-victory-global-exploitation-gig-workers

R[G]igging the game


First, I voted NO on Prop 22 because of its poison pill provision making it almost impossible for my elected representatives to overturn even part of it. But.

The reality is that from a users perspective Uber and Lyft offer a great service. Like Amazon, it’s seductive. Once I waited and waited for a cab I called to appear, if it ever did. Using Lyft, I know when my ride is coming, who’s driving, how long it’s going to take. No money changes hands and the threat of shaming via low ratings makes driver and passenger alike inclined to be civil if not friendly. Living in SF, the wait is typically less than 5 minutes. What’s there not to like?

Over the past several months, I interviewed maybe a dozen Lyft drivers about their Prop 22 thoughts. Almost all were apolitical, but all, without exception, wanted the flexibility that this gig service allows them. I don’t believe the figure 80% of the rides are provided by the 20% of drivers who drive fulltime at least in SF. I’ve read other figures suggesting it’s more like 50%.

Drivers are exploited yes, but they seemed content with the arrangement with the exception that Uber and Lyft took too big a slice of the pie. What’s needed is for drivers to organize and force these companies to share the wealth more evenly.

A second issue is that the fares are too low. Mostly, this is a strategy by Uber and Lyft to drive the cab companies out of business. But its impact is to put far too many cars on the road. These cars spend many hours driving and consuming gasoline without customers. An study found that most of the increase in the congestion of SF streets was because of these rideshare companies. Not to mention that many drivers drive literally hundreds of miles to and from their homes, pumping megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere. If drivers got the wages they deserve then that would increase fares enough that those of us who’ve benefitted from a cheap ride would consider taking public transit, walking or riding a bike.

As an old guy living in the 21st century, I try to appreciate when things seem better. Rather than bashing these companies, I’d like to see an accommodation that would give drivers a fair income and benefits and would make us riders pay the social cost of this service.

1 Like

“A second issue is that the fares are too low”…

The reason cab companies can charge high fares is that they have a government-supported monopoly. Prior to Uber and Lyft, cab medallions sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars because cities restricted the # of cabs that were allowed. This was “crony capitalism” at its worst.

As for “drivers getting the wages they deserve”, they get what the market is willing to pay. No one is forced to drive for Uber or Lyft, they choose to. Let them run create and run their own ride sharing service if they feel they’re not being compensated fairly. Uber & Lyft reduce the cost and increase the availability of transportation. No one is forced to participate.

I agree with your 1st paragraph. The old system stunk after cab companies were allowed to treat their drivers as independent contractors.

The argument in the 2nd that “they get what the market is willing to pay” applies pretty much to any relationship between employees and employers. In our system, if it’s every man/woman for him/her- self, it’s a vicious battle over scraps with the employer laughing all the way to the bank. But if the employees band to together and unionize, this gives them power to counter the power of the owners. Uber and Lyft can’t exist without drivers. United, the drivers could withhold their labor and get the compensation for the essential value they provide.


(this comment contains explicit details that may be considered conspiracy)

I actually came for the comments of @zed , who appears to be on hiatus.
May you live long and prosper. I see the policy space has been updated recently, so I am hopeful that all is well.
I don’t have all the info properly organized because this isn’t my typical area of argument. Please bear with me…


Trade “agreements” that nobody would agree with between oligarchs are the real government now. They limit what Presidents and Congress can do to only what they permit.

Because they intend to outsource this country’s jobs to firms from elsewhere, (assuming they are the low bidders, which is a logical assumption given the low wages in many other countries, and the way these “services” deals work. ) Why would they do that? Profits.

I am not good at being Zed (smile) but the point is…
The powers that be want every single job on earth to be a gig job. The 99% have to compete with each other, from the entire planet, not just your neighbor. The powers that be want you to be in competition with some random person on the other side of the planet in another country. This is known as “the race to the bottom.”

“From Cambodia to California is a shorter distance than we may think. Prop 22 will only accelerate the pace of exploitation.” Bama Athreya.

(this article^ is Sci-Fi Horror freaky!)

1 Like

No, the old system stunk from the start. The whole notion that you need to purchase a “medallion” from the city in order to give people rides is where the problem is. Cities created monopolies where none existed in order to generate more money and power for the city officials and create goodies that they could provide to their favored partners.

Drivers are welcome to band together. Unfortunately for them, it’s not a job with a particularly high barrier to entry, and there will be plenty more people willing to become drivers if they go on strike.

Two related comments: (1) I don’t understand how Uber and Lyft can be losing money - they each have an app and pay their drivers shit. Their overhead has got to be tremendously small, unless their execs are robbing the companies blind with their salaries and perks. (2) It seems like a similar transport model could be set up locally that takes care of passengers but still treats drivers with dignity and benefits - why are we accepting the corporate monopoly model that exploits workers.


Maybe it is just me but the above quote is sounding much like “let them eat cake”.

The market was not created by God.

Predictably, when the market is run by the employers the market will be willing to and will prefer to pay starvation wages and will be happy to create and maintain a reserve of desperate unemployed workers who will be desperate enough to work at starvation wages. Many will work for Uber until their vehicle wears out. They will be replaced by other desperate people with newer cars. Technically they are not being forced to drive for Uber & Lyft, but there definitely is some compulsion as there is no guarantee that they will be able to get a job delivering flyers, or find another job quickly enough, or that they can survive on panhandling.

1 Like

This is proof positive that unions in this country are dead. Useless. Workers have no proponents in positions of power, anywhere.

The gig economy is the modern iteration of the “company store”. Randian assholes that coolly remark that these gig workers get the wage the market is willing to pay and that if people don’t like it they should start their own company should take a quick trip to Bangladesh or similar to see what your communities will look like in a dozen years.

It must be fun driving uber or lyft in california - hustling to make your ridiculous rents. You can be reminded constantly of how fortunate you are as you shuttle your fares past the countless homeless encampments that are now under every underpass and in every open field.

Yes, you should count yourself as lucky and fortunate that you have such a wonderful gig hustle and that at least you’re not homeless - that is, until one day soon they update the apps algorithm.


Cities did not restrict the number of cabs because of “crony capitalism”. They regulated the industry and restricted the number of cabs because the unregulated competition had led to unsafe conditions where the vehicles were not adequately maintained and insured, too many corners got cut, and the quality and safety of the drivers and rides was dropping because almost nobody was making a decent living in the industry.

I do agree that there is a problem when the cab medallions are selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. When this happens more taxis are needed and the number of medallions needs to be increased, but prudently so as to maintain a reasonable balance between wages, profitability and service.

1 Like

Were any of the 58% of California voters aware that they were voting for this proviso?

The intent of Proposition 22 is to enable the corporations to permanently avoid complying with the existing labor laws. How is it that to overturn Proposition 22 that “the authors” can require that a far larger majority be obtained in both houses of the state, than was obtained on the ballot? A law above the law. What arrogance! Chutzpah! Can such a restriction be legal and binding? Changing the Constitution would be easier than getting the specified two 7/8’s majorities. For our society to let this stand would be to take an dangerous step backwards towards slavery.

The proposition 22 ballot initiative win is an example of some of the best graft that money can buy, potentially becoming diabolically entrenched and precedent setting, much like Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886) where the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment applied to corporations, or like several recent free trade agreements designed to over ride the powers of democratically elected state and local governments.

Note that if we bought a refrigerator and found that that product were misrepresented to us, or even after the excitement of the sales pitch wore off we realized that we did not want it, we would send it back and get our money back under the buyers remorse laws. Proposition 22 was sold using a high pressure sales pitch that misrepresented the extent of what it would do. People were not told that the law was to be so precedent setting and irreversible. If enough people look closely there will be buyer’s remorse. Send it back.

1 Like


73.6% turnout of registered voters

83.49% of eligible population are registered to vote

I wonder if I can get more in depth details.
Just happens about 25% of state is not a D or R.

The market wasn’t created, period. It simply is a reflection of what buyers and sellers are willing to pay for anything. Notice how traditional cabs have been dying? That’s because people would rather pay less for transportation with more convenience. That’s the market. You’re not going to pay more than you have to for a ride, just as Uber isn’t going to pay more than they have to for drivers.

Companies don’t owe people jobs, and don’t owe them what they might want to be paid. Companies will pay what they have to in order to get the people they need. No compulsion - if you don’t want to work for Uber, find a different job.

Sorry, I call Bulls*&@#)& on that one.

If you’ve ever been involved in city government, you’d know that on those rare occasions when cities make new taxi medallions available, they almost always go to people who happen to have friends in city hall. If it were a safety issue, then cities would issue medallions to anyone who met the standards - that is not what happened at least not in most major cities.

I found a new article today, adding to the conversation.


Contemporary automation discourse responds to a real, global trend: there are too few jobs for too many people. But it ignores the actual sources of this trend: deindustrialization, depressed investment, and ultra-wealthy elites who stand in the way of a post-scarcity society.

Aaron Benanav is a researcher at Humboldt University of Berlin. This article has been adapted from his first book, Automation and the Future of Work

As long as there is money,
Nothing will change.

There is another source for that trend of too few jobs for too many people that was not mentioned by Benanav, namely that the working class has not even discussed uniting to share the work fairly while restricting the amount of hours that they will sell to the employers. Supply and demand. Reduce the hours being sold and by the laws of supply and demand the amount paid per hour will rise. It is the unfair management of the laws of supply and demand for jobs and labor that has been the problem for the working class.

In other words, if to meet our needs we need everyone to work an average of 20 hours per week, then it does not work out well for the working class when half of us work 40 hours per week while the other half of us are unemployed and desperate. That drives down wages as the demand is far less than the supply. If instead we collectively share the work that needs to be done by dividing it up fairly, and we manage the total amount of work being sold, then by the laws of supply and demand we can get better pay with a 20 hour work week than we were getting on a 40 hour work week (assuming that one were fortunate enough to get that 40 hours per week job).

See ~timesizing.org for the details. (Unfortunately Phil Hyde died in 2016 and since then most of his writing has been removed from the site which is now a shadow of what it once was).

1 Like

Nice post. I also voted NO and heard about the poison pill part. Interesting feedback from drivers. I’ve only used Uber maybe 3 times and never Lyft so I would have no idea on what drivers thought. I’m afraid in the long run, I agree with Andrew Yang - the driving job (any kind) is going to die.

The driving job is only there until self-driving cars are perfected. They’re already being tested by Uber, in Pittsburgh I believe.

Any job that can be done by machines will be. Just a matter of time.

1 Like

Several problems there.

  1. Not all work and all skills are fungible. Almost anyone can move boxes in a warehouse, or drive a car (although I wouldn’t trust my daughter on the latter score…). On the other hand, fewer can play an instrument, write a novel, successfully argue a case in court, etc. Therefore, some jobs are more controllable than others. The ones at the low end of the skill scale are, at the same time, both the most needy of reducing supply, and the least susceptible to such reduction.

  2. Individuals have different “price points”. Some people are perfectly happy to take a job at $10/hour that someone else would turn their nose up at.

  3. People have different desires. Some people are going to want to have more than the average, others would be content with less. This feeds into what someone’s price point is.

You’re only going to achieve this if you fundamentally change human nature.

1 Like