Uber’s response to BOLI’s employee dispute

uberWilliam Barnes
Regional General Manager, West Uber

Dear Commissioner Avakian,

I write in response to your unprompted decision to issue an advisory opinion regarding drivers using the Uber platform. This decision and subsequent push to media is surprising, since the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries did so apparently without talking to any drivers and after a brief five-minute phone call with Uber that came out of the blue and was without context. The advisory determination is based on an erroneous and incomplete picture of how drivers use the Uber application in Oregon and as such, is filled with factual errors and assertions that are simply wrong.

Fundamentally, the findings fail to acknowledge that about 50 percent of drivers using Uber drive fewer than ten hours a week, less than even a traditional part-time job. These are people who value their flexibility and independence: the ability to work whenever and wherever they choose. That’s why many other labor agencies in the U.S.—including in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, California and New York—have concluded that drivers are independent contractors.

Uber has created a new way for people to work: on their own terms. People choose to drive with Uber because of the flexibility it provides, and the dignity that comes with being their own boss. Contrary to assertions made in BOLI’s advisory opinion, Uber does not control the work drivers do. Drivers independently decide when and where to work, and their performance is rated not by Uber but by the individual riders they interact with in the course of their work.

This flexibility and freedom is prized by the workers who use Uber. In a survey of drivers 87 percent said they chose to drive with Uber to “be my own boss and set my own schedule.” The value they place on flexibility shows up in our data, too: over 65 percent of drivers in the United States vary the hours they work by over 25 percent week-toweek. So for most drivers, working for 12 hours one week, 17 the next, and 8 the one after that is a new work schedule that fits around their life, instead of demanding their life fit around a 9-to-5 job.

BOLI overlooked in its analysis the extent to which Uber works for drivers, not the other way around. Most importantly, Uber allows drivers to freely and simultaneously use competing platforms like Lyft to generate more rides—and more income—for themselves. This stands in contrast to traditional employment relationships, in which an employer exerts control over when and where the employee works, restricting their ability to pursue additional opportunities to earn income during that time.

Uber is a platform for earning income that will be there when drivers most need it. In a survey of drivers, 32 percent of respondents indicated that they rely on Uber for income while also looking for full-time work. In other words, Uber serves as a bridge during periods of unemployment. So while BOLI is correct in asserting that drivers can expect a relationship with Uber over a long period of time, it’s a relationship that ebbs and flows as a driver needs it to. This is quite the opposite of a permanent employment relationship, in which a driver is at the employer’s service for a permanent or indefinite basis.

BOLI also asserts that drivers using Uber do not rely on skill to do their work. On behalf of all the drivers using Uber, we respectfully disagree. Enterprising and entrepreneurial drivers may choose to drive at times of day or in parts of a city where they can optimize their income. And because performance is monitored by individual riders (not Uber), drivers rely on customer service skills to ensure riders are satisfied. For instance, riders can nominate drivers who go above and beyond for a “Sixth Star Award,” which rewards drivers for excellent customer service.

If drivers were employees, they would have to work fixed and pre-assigned shifts, and their ability to work across multiple platforms simultaneously would be restricted — mechanisms of control that traditional employers exert over employees. Drivers would lose the flexibility they have today with Uber, much to the disappointment of the 87 percent who say they partner with Uber to “be my own boss and set my own schedule.” We look forward to providing facts about the Uber platform to your office to clarify the misinformation represented in your initial advisory decision.


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