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Mon, Jul

DoorDash and Uber Using Customers as Pawns to Punish Workers—Don’t Fall for It

STATE WATCH

GUEST COMMENTARY - A mere two months after a series of new protections for certain app-based workers in Seattle took effect, corporations like DoorDash and Uber Eats that had opposed them are trying to destroy them another way: by charging new service fees in order to tank consumer demand and available work.

In doing so, these companies manipulate more than just the market. They orchestrate a political backlash in which they seek consumers and workers to join them in denouncing the law as the culprit and clamoring for its repeal. It’s a tactic from a well-worn playbook.

As Seattle’s City Council recently recognized in passing the minimum pay law, these corporations “often pay app-based workers subminimum wages despite the promise of good wages, flexibility, and accessibility.” Moreover, these digital labor platforms rely disproportionately on Black and Latinx workers to provide the services they offer. Again, the City Council astutely recognized that such workers “face unique barriers to economic security and disproportionately must accept low-wage, unsafe, and insecure working conditions.” Black and Latinx workers are “disproportionately deprived of core employee protections” because the corporations treat them as independent contractors.

The new policies did not require DoorDash, Uber Eats, or any other company to increase service fees instead of ensuring that their workers benefit.

The Seattle City Council wisely sought to tackle and reverse these unfair and inequitable conditions. It declared that: “the City intends to address the inequities of app-based work by ensuring that such workers earn at least the city’s minimum wage plus reasonable expenses, receive transparent information on job offers and pay, and exercise the flexibility promised by network companies.”

Policy changes take time to have impact. Yet the City Council is already facing pressure from these corporations to reverse policies that they committed to just recently.

That’s because these corporations have launched one of their favorite strategies: use their control of the apps to bamboozle consumers, workers, and even elected officials into thinking that workplace protections are too costly and unworkable. In New York City, for example, after a new pay standard for app-based delivery workers took effect, “the companies wasted no time in restricting workers’ access to their platforms and discouraging tips.” Such tactics are designed to undermine support for the new protections.

App-based delivery companies are imitating the corporate tactics Uber and Lyft have used against ridehail drivers. Although Seattle’s city laws can’t touch ridehail driver conditions after the corporations pushed through a problematic preemption policy, recent analysis of that industry shows the need to drill down on the true causes and impacts of price increases. Uber and Lyft raised fares substantially more in Chicago—a city without a pay standard for app-based drivers—than in New York City, which enacted a relatively robust pay standard. If corporate claims that pay increases necessarily make rides prohibitively expensive were true, New York’s riders would have seen the more drastic increases.

Given these predictable tactics, perhaps it is no surprise that Seattle’s app-based workers are still struggling, at the mercy of corporate greed and gamesmanship. They log on and make themselves available for work, only to find there is suddenly little work to be had. It’s easy to see why many would blame the new laws, but the new policies did not require DoorDash, Uber Eats, or any other company to increase service fees instead of ensuring that their workers benefit.

The likely culprit isn’t the new protections, and the City Council should not be fooled. Rather than caving to corporate demands that reduce pay for disproportionately Black and immigrant workers who can least afford it, the council should demand data from the corporations to conduct rigorous, neutral research on its true impacts. For their part, the corporations that insist that new protections are the problem should be eager to turn over the data that will prove their case. But their one-sided and self-interested claims about what their own corporate-backed research shows should be rejected. And without evidence, the council should not fall victim to this play.

All eyes are on Seattle. Elected officials must be clear eyed about what is happening and demand answers. Corporate-sponsored policies that give the companies even more control will only undermine and exacerbate the race and income inequalities that the council sought to address. Rather, councilmembers should look to the Minneapolis example, and reject corporate efforts to scapegoat policies at the expense of the populations those policies were designed to protect and benefit. Stay the course.

(Sally Dworak-Fisher is a senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project. This article was featured in CommonDreams.org.)