“If you are a driver, you are nothing for Uber,” Karim Benkanoun fulminates. He is one of the Californian drivers who would like to be recognized as employees, not self-employed, and will vote “no” on November 3, against the compromise put forward by the giant of the reservation of cars with driver (VTC).
“They see us as entrepreneurs, but we don’t have a say in the contract,” he explains. “They are masters of the relationship, they decide everything for us”.
On November 3, election day in the United States, Californian citizens are also called upon to vote on “Proposition 22”, formulated by Uber and Lyft, its American competitor, to preserve their economic model.
These groups refuse to apply the state law, which came into force in January, which requires them to reclassify their tens of thousands of drivers as employees, and therefore to grant them social benefits (health and unemployment insurance, paid vacation, overtime, etc.).
Such a transformation would represent a considerable investment for the leaders of the “gig economy” (task-based economy), who have never succeeded in making a profit.
Instead, they offer compensation: a guaranteed minimum income, a contribution to health insurance and other insurances, depending on the number of hours worked per week.
“It’s their big word, flexibility!”, Annoys Sharkee at the wheel of his minivan, behind the transparent tarpaulin which he has fixed with adhesive between the seats.
This driver has been driving for Uber for five years in San Francisco. He feels cornered by the company, whose promises resonate with him like intimidation.
“They threaten to stop everything or limit our hours. But I want to be an employee, have paid vacation and no longer work 15 hours a day! “
Sergei Fyodorov, on the contrary, is keen on the possibility of working when he wants, that is, mainly on weekends, when he goes to see his family an hour from home.
This manager in a technology company drives because he likes to “meet people” and also to earn additional income, especially between two positions.
“It was the idea, at the base: to make additional income”, he insists. “If you can make a living from it, so much the better, (…) but for me it is especially practical during studies or unemployment”.
According to Lyft, 86% of its Californian drivers drive less than 20 hours a week and want to be in control of their schedule, because they are students, retired, or have another job.
“Hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost” if Proposition 22 were defeated, said Geoff Vetter, spokesperson for the “yes” campaign. “Even though these services seem to be omnipresent in our lives, they are not even ten years old.”
“They want to undo decades of labor law we fought for,” says Erica Mighetto, holding up a “No to Proposition 22” sign near Oakland airport, along with others. activists from the “Rideshare Drivers United” group.
Four years ago, she started taking passengers. A resident of Sacramento, she used to come to work four-day weekends in the San Francisco Bay area, sleeping in her car.
“For $ 40 gross an hour, it seemed like it was worth it,” she recalls. “But before the pandemic it was only $ 20”.
Most of the drivers in the region saw their incomes decrease as more and more drivers joined the platform.
If Proposition 22 wins, drivers will earn between $ 25 and $ 28 an hour, after expenses, according to a study by UC Riverside University funded by Lyft.
But a year ago, two researchers at UC Berkeley determined that the minimum income guaranteed by the two companies would be only $ 5.64 an hour, after “considering many elements” not taken into account. , according to them, as the waiting time or the wear and tear of the vehicle.
“Uber, it works because it’s cheap and fast,” argues Kurt Nelson, engineer at Uber, in a column published on the TechCrunch media, calling for a vote “no”.
“But it only works thanks to the countless drivers waiting for the next race, completely unpaid. The workers subsidize the product with their free labor ”.