On his blog, my brother Seth (former Deputy Labor Secretary) writes about the Uber-ification of the American work force:
By any measure, a huge number of American workers have no employer and no co-workers. They have very few, if any, legal protections. They have no economic safety net with the possible exception of Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance. They are on their own. And they are entirely disposable to companies like Uber, Lyft, and Task Rabbit. If one driver doesn’t show up for work, does anyone at Uber know? Does anyone care?
While some may laud the flexibility of these disposable work relationships, there are significant risks for workers and our economy. Next time you ride in an Uber car, ask the driver about her work life. You will almost certainly hear the kinds of stories I have heard: people scrambling to patch together different kinds of jobs and tasks to make enough to support themselves and, sometimes, their families. It is a hand-to-mouth existence. There is no room for error, or even illness. A day off work for any reason is a day of pay lost forever. And the pay is low, in part thanks to a price war between Uber and Lyft, but also because these two companies want to underprice traditional taxi services to expand market share across the country.
These workers are not very different from other service-sector workers competing against an army of others who need very little —- in this case only a car and a driver’s license —- to flood the labor market. They have no bargaining power. They have no pensions, so they will either have to keep working into old age or rely on small Social Security checks if they qualify. Only Obamacare ensures that they can get health insurance, if they can afford it with the subsidies provided under the law. Otherwise, their government is not available to help them because they don’t meet the basic threshold for coverage by laws crafted in a very different era characterized by very different work relationships.