Many Uber drivers — or “partners,” as Uber calls us — read with great interest the recent California Labor Commission ruling that a California Uber driver is in fact an employee, not an independent contractor. While the ruling only applies to one San Francisco-based driver, it could have far-reaching implications, setting up a stage for Uber to make all drivers employees instead of independent contractors. This would mean Uber would have to foot higher costs by providing health insurance, Social Security, worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance to drivers.
But as Uber has grown from an underdog, grassroots startup to a billion-dollar behemoth, one thing is clear: No matter how the worker-employer relationship is defined, Uber and its drivers are joined at the hip. Without Uber, we don’t have a livelihood. Without us, Uber doesn’t have drivers or cars.
Uber provides a seamless app and a wonderful client base. I’ve been an Uber driver for more than three years. In my personal experience, the worst I have encountered during my drives was the minor inconvenience of a young couple asking me to hitch a boxspring and mattress on top of my Cadillac Escalade — hello, U-Haul?
But while this relationship may seem harmonious, drivers increasingly feel they are working harder and longer for less, and that the partnership is increasingly one-sided.
Uber drivers shoulder many expenses and risks to keep their job: car payments, car maintenance, insurance and client satisfaction. The employee-contractor debate touches upon a larger issue of remuneration and satisfaction among Uber drivers. It’s clear Uber needs to do more to address driver concerns. The question is, what steps can Uber take to increase driver livelihood and satisfaction, without turning all of us into employees?
Uber could also make a small change that will have a big impact on driver pay: Adding a tipping feature to its app.
Right now, Uber doesn’t ban tipping, but riders have to have cash handy if they want to tip a driver, so the company certainly discourages the act. There’s no reason to prevent Uber riders from showing their drivers a little love through cashless tipping, which Uber can easily integrate in its wonderful app that has revolutionized ground transportation. Uber’s competitor, Lyft, includes a tipping feature on all rides, so why shouldn’t Uber?
Uber users have spoken and they would appreciate this feature just as much as drivers. More than 18,000 people have signed a Care2 petition that I started, which asks Uber to integrate a tipping feature.
In my local market in Washington, D.C., UberX drivers are increasingly demoralized and reeling from successive fare cuts. UberBlack partners, who helped build Uber’s business early on, feel eclipsed by UberX. They feel Uber continually changes the game at their expense. Uber should give drivers a louder and more meaningful voice in the partnership. Considering many drivers rely on Uber as a primary income source, a good place to start would be allowing us to earn a little extra money when passengers feel we’ve done a good job.
Based on my discussions with other Uber drivers, Uber will ultimately have to examine increasing the fare for UberX and UberBlack rides in order to ensure drivers earn fair pay. All businesses are built on customer service, but the rates in D.C. barely support UberX and UberBlack drivers. A more productive, communicative, and open dialogue between Uber and its partners could create progress. My Care2 petition is a way to start this conversation, but so far, the petition has fallen on deaf ears.
At the end of the day, Uber drivers are part of the service industry. Appreciation in this sector has always been shown via tips. I love working for Uber, and I want to see the app become even better. My Care2 petition shows that a large chunk of Uber’s user base — riders and drivers alike — agree. It’s time for Uber to listen.
Peter Faris is an Uber driver based in Washington, D.C.