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Uber calls on Trump to extend economic safety net to its drivers

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Via Financial Times

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi has called on the White House to include its drivers among the beneficiaries of a planned $2tn government stimulus package, despite continuing to resist changes in the law that would classify its workers as employees.

“My goal in writing to you is not to ask for a bailout for Uber,” Mr Khosrowshahi wrote in a letter to US president Donald Trump. “But rather for support for the independent workers on our platform and, once we move past the immediate crisis, the opportunity to legally provide them with a real safety net going forward.”

Gig workers are not at present included in the proposed coronavirus relief package, the final details of which have yet to be agreed in Congress.

The letter comes as Uber continues to back efforts to scuttle new laws regarding the classification of gig workers. That opposition includes fighting California’s recently passed AB5 law, designed to give additional benefits — such as sick pay — to Uber drivers and other gig economy workers. Uber is part of a joint fund to push an alternative measure that it hopes to get on the ballot this year.

Mr Khosrowshahi used his letter, which was also sent to congressional leaders as well as Uber drivers, to advocate again for a “third way” employment category, where gig workers are considered neither employees nor independent contractors, but something in between.

“The current binary system of employment classification means that either a worker is an employee who is provided significant social benefits or an independent worker who is provided relatively few,” he wrote.

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Uber said Mr Khosrowshahi discussed the issue with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer on Friday, and hoped to speak with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell soon. Rafael Espinal, president of the Freelancers Union, said Senator Schumer’s office had “reached out” regarding support for independent workers.

Uber’s drivers have felt the brunt of dramatic falls in business since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. In a call with investors, Mr Khosrowshahi said that in the worst-hit areas, such as Seattle, its ride-sharing business had seen declines of between 60 and 70 per cent. However, he said its Eats food delivery business was experiencing a considerable spike with more people staying at home and ordering takeaways.

The company is offering financial assistance for drivers who have been diagnosed with Covid-19, or are quarantined by local authorities. However, many drivers feel that, with a shortage of testing capacity in the US, the proposed benefits fall short.

Earlier this month, Democrat senator Mark Warner called on gig economy companies to do more to protect their workers. In response to Mr Khosrowshahi’s letter, Senator Warner said: “Part of the reason we’re facing the crisis we’re in is because we’ve left millions of workers to participate in the workforce without a safety net or adequate benefits to fall back on, whether they’re gig workers or domestic workers or service-sector employees subcontracted out.

“But, the focus of portable benefits experimentation needs to be on supporting mayors, governors and non-profit worker advocates.”

Last week, short-term rental service Airbnb made a similar plea to congressional leaders. In a letter dated Tuesday, the company called for the introduction of tax breaks for short-term rental hosts and others offering travel services on Airbnb. The company also requested that its hosts are considered for access to small business disaster loans set up by the federal government.

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Tell us about what’s happening around you. Are jobs being cut in your company? Are salaries or benefits changing? Send tips and stories to our reporters at coronavirus@ft.com

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