As a retiree on a fixed income, driving with Uber offers me the perfect way to earn supplemental income. When I want to work I turn on my app and when I’m done I simply switch it off and go home. I’ve worked a traditional nine to five, but at my age I need a job that I work on my schedule not vice versa. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many interesting Washingtonians. I’ve always had a passion for personal electronics and there is no better city in the world to meet brilliant engineers.
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But like any big corporation, Uber and Lyft are not perfect, and for years drivers like me have wanted more benefits and better workplace protections. For a while those two propositions have seemed contradictory, but early this month, California voters showed that gig workers can have both flexibility and benefits, and Washington leaders should listen.
Hands down the biggest benefit of driving is the flexibility. I just turn on the app when I want to work and turn it off when I want to stop. Some weeks when I feel up to it I drive 20 or more hours, other weeks I only drive four or five hours. When I’m short on income, I just turn on the app and if I’ve made enough, I turn it off and go home. Especially for people like me on a fixed income a little extra cash can go a long way.
The reason I have so much flexibility is that I’m not an employee but an independent contractor. If I were to become an employee, instead of deciding when I wanted to drive, Uber would likely decide for me. If I wanted to take time off at the last minute to look after my family, I’d need to clear it with a manager. If I was short a little money, and wanted to put in extra hours, I’d have to hope there were scheduled times available when I could work.
Employees at a coffee shop, for example, can’t just show up and say they want to work some extra hours or walk out and go home whenever they want. But that’s exactly what Uber allows me to do. When I want to work, I turn on my app, and when I’m ready to quit, I just turn it off. Employment is not worth the loss of my flexibility.
I’m not alone, the overwhelming majority of drivers don’t want to become employees, but they do want more benefits. Under the new ballot measure, California’s gig workers will finally have both. As part of the new law workers get better wages, and access to money for healthcare and other expenses, and their ability to work whenever, wherever and for whoever is protected.
Washington can do better. State leaders here should learn from Sacramento’s mistakes and pursue a strategy that not only respects workers desires for flexible work opportunities, but also extends benefits to go with those opportunities.
What worked in California may not work in Washington, but it’s clear now that there’s a better way forward for workers like me. App workers shouldn’t have to pick between their flexibility and traditional benefits. I hope legislative leaders will listen to drivers like me and find a way forward that meets our needs.
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