Uber. On "New" Alternatives To Traditional Worker-Employer Arrangements by echidne, at ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES 4:38 pm / 24 November 2014
Uber, one of the alternatives to traditional taxicab companies, has been in the news for all sorts of reasons, including its founders apparent sexism. Those are all negative news, but Uber and other companies of similar ilk are obviously doing quite well, and there are objective reasons for that:
They can fill gaps in markets where taxi medallions are monopolistically awarded by increasing the number of cars-for-hire, they can offer extra income for students and others who own a car and some extra spare time for driving, and they can even reduce a certain kind of racism, the kind where a cab will not stop to pick up a passenger who is black, say.
But on one level Uber doesn't look like a traditional corporation at all: It looks more like a marketplace. Note that it doesn't provide the workers with cars, it doesn't maintain the cars, and it most likely does not offer the drivers retirement benefits or health insurance. Its main task is to match buyers of driving services with the sellers of driving services, and that sounds more like a market than a firm, though the Uber app itself is also a form of capital which belongs to the firm.
The reason I put the "new" in the title of this post between two raised sets of fingers is that the arrangement is not really new. Indeed, in Victorian England poor seamstresses had to provide their own scissors, thread and needles before they could be paid for sewing work, organized by larger entities which looked like corporations. The seamstresses were entrepreneurs in the sense that they carried the risk if the needles broke or rusted or if the thread turned out to be of low quality and useless for the job: When that happened their earnings were much reduced. The entity which hired them for work, on the other hand, only paid for the finished work some constant sum. That moved some risk away from the presumed real entrepreneur and to the workers themselves.
It's that aspect of who-bears-the-risk that I find most interesting here, as an example of economic theory. The usual econo-babble argument is that firms make profits partly because they bear the risks: Many entrepreneurs go under while others thrive, and that's because of the risk game. You lose some, you win some, and in a way it is the risk-bearing aspect of entrepreneurship which most appeals to our ethical antennas and reassures them of the rightness of those extra profits for the winners.
But what happens when the workers are all independent entrepreneurs? Can the average Uber driver figure out the replacement costs of the car in his or her profit calculations? That there is an actual per-mile cost of wear and tear and gasoline consumption when driving customers around? Has that average Uber driver looked into the question of car insurance? Will the company which insures the car accept claims which come from a professional use of a car that was insured for family use?
As far as I know, Uber insures the customers of the Uber cars, not the cars or their drivers.
Uber is not alone among the "new" arrangements of risk-sharing in labor markets. In a sense the giant eBay is nothing but an app for getting buyers and sellers together, but it has also contributed to the slow death of the bricks-and-mortar antique and second-hand stores and increased the atomization of the market on the seller side. It has made the transactions more invisible, because we no longer really know who we are trading with, whether the buyer will pay or send back a flawed specimen of the same product, demanding full repayment or whether a fraudulent seller simply disappears, to pop up shortly under a different name. Even though eBay is clearly a roaring success, it also contributes to a certain amount of risk juggling downstream.
Or take this example of FedEx drivers: FedEx argues that its drivers are not employees, entitled to all sorts of employee benefits, but independent contractors. The courts will decide if that works, but here's the reason why firms pursue that avenue:
Treating workers as independent contractors can save companies as much as 30 percent of payroll costs, including payroll tax, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and state taxes, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a workers’ rights group. Using independent contractors offers companies advantages, says James Baron, a management professor at Yale. “[It’s] driven in part by uncertainty about demand, and about future conditions, and a feeling that the firm has more flexibility with respect to scaling up and scaling down,” he says.*
Because independent contractors aren’t covered by wage and hour rules, they don’t have to be paid overtime, and they can be required to pay for uniforms and truck maintenance. Contractors don’t have the right to unionize and aren’t covered by employment protections in the Civil Rights Act, so they can’t use those provisions to sue over sexual harassment or discrimination.
I have bolded the last sentence because it suggests an additional problem for women and/or people of color in these arrangements.
This post was caused by something I read today, about Uber facilitating subprime car loans for its drivers:
Uber is reportedly facilitating subprime auto loans to its drivers. According to a report by tech blog Valleywag, the car share company is hooking up drivers with loans through Santander Consumer USA that can be paid off through Uber paychecks. The company is specifically marketing these loans to drivers with bad credit saying, "Even if you have bad credit or no credit at all, we can help you get behind the wheel in a week." Uber contends that these loans are low-risk, but others think that this is indicative of a larger auto-loan bubble in the U.S.Fascinating stuff! Once you have a loan like that, your incentive to keep on driving for Uber is strengthened. But it's you, the driver, who bears the risk of default, not Uber, the company.
*Translate that part into ordinary speech and it says that risk will be transferred downstream..
The Death of Welfare | Clarissa’s Blog by Jennifer Armstrong, at ASK APE 3:36 pm / 24 November 2014
People used to run around physically a lot more, which would help them to iron out their difficulties. A wild rabbit is different from a caged rabbit and in the second case, you need to compensate more for the lack of natural conditions by upping the vitamins and special care regime. Same with contemporary humans.
Dear Sweden, Can I come over? A intellectual exercise in asking for asylum by Adrienne Elyse, at Feministing 1:10 pm / 24 November 2014
Ed. note: This is a guest post.
Sometimes I get tired of being a black woman in America. Countless times I’ve threatened to move somewhere else. I’ve even recently joked that maybe I’ll just move to Sweden and ask for asylum.
This is an intellectual exercise (mostly). And I realize that many people risk their lives to seek asylum in this country and are routinely denied, fast-tracked back to horrible conditions after a completely unjust process. Our mass deportation of undocumented folks is hugely problematic. But that doesn’t erase the reality that Mike Brown’s mother and father testified to the United Nation to make a case for UN intervention on US state violence against black bodies.
One more note before I talk turkey: Sweden isn’t perfect — for example they aren’t always super kind to immigrants and they have a pretty dangerous problem with Islamophobia. But they like people from the US and they have social welfare and maternal leave and even places for black hair care. Also, I like it in Sweden. No one looks at me like I’m a criminal, every one assumes I have an education, and no one blames me for the destruction of my people. Further my kids would always have food clothing and shelter, access to healthcare and a free college tuition.
So here’s the case I may one day lay before Sweden’s Migration Ministers:
“Good morning Ministers,
My name is Adrienne Wallace and I’m asking you for asylum today. As you know, the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as someone who is “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”
I fear returning to my country. I fear raising children in my country. I am afraid that if I return I will not be permitted to live. You see, dear ministers, every 28 hours a black person is killed by a police officer in my home country. Every 28 hours that pass, I’m lucky to be alive. I’m lucky if no one in my family is killed. That I’m here today proves I’m lucky — but that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid.
I have much to fear in the USA. Recently, police shot an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. Perhaps you heard of his case and the resulting police repression against black people that was so violent the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination asked the US government to halt the excessive use of force against protestors.
Further, The United Nations CERD Vice chairman explained: “Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life [for black Americans] from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing,”
Ministers, the situation gets even more frightening, Black women are nearly “four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women. These rates and disparities have not improved in more than 20 years.” I fear that due to inadequate medical care I can’t safely deliver children.
In fact, as Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen explains: “African Americans in the United States are relatively poor compared to American whites, though much richer than people in the third world. It is, however, important to recognize that African Americans have an absolutely lower chance of reaching mature ages that do people of many third world societies.”
Black men in my home country are incarcerated at a higher rate than the black population of South Africa during apartheid. Criminalizing black bodies starts early. Black students represent 18 percent of the total preschool population and a whopping 48 percent of students suspended more than once from preschool. This is unfortunately only the very tip of the criminal [in]justice system in my country.
Ministers, I am not unaware of the reality that it probably appears quite strange for you to hear an asylum plea from a citizen of the wealthiest country in the world, a country in which many others seek citizenship. I am writing not just because of the relative deprivation I face as a black woman in my country, but because of the absolute deprivation I face. I fear for my life, I fear for the lives of my future children. I feel this fear acutely every time I hear a police siren or spot a police officer.
I beg you for the opportunity to live free from this fear of persecution and death because of my race.
Thank you Ministers, thank you.”
Or, you know, something like that. Just saying — it’s dangerous as hell for me, and some days I’m kind of over the fear. Sweden — you might see me soon.
Old Testament Phone by Clarissa, at Clarissa's Blog 11:34 am / 24 November 2014
My phone always suggests that I follow the word “children” with “of God” and “of Israel”. It also refuses to recognize the word “Jesus” and keeps substituting it with “Jessica.”
Filed under: Uncategorized
Students stage walkout over Oklahoma high school’s treatment of three rape survivors by Maya Dusenbery, at Feministing 10:07 am / 24 November 2014
In an inspiring show of solidarity — and a depressing indictment of both their fellow students and their school’s administration — a group of students is staging a walkout at a Norman, Oklahoma high school this morning to protest the way the community has treated three girls who were raped by a classmate. ThinkProgress reports:
Student organizers are standing in solidarity with three rape victims who say they were assaulted by the same male student. Although school administrators did suspend the alleged assailant, activists are concerned about the fact that the teen girls have faced bullying and harassment from other students since coming forward with their stories.
After a video of one of the assaults was posted online and passed around the high school, students labeled one of the victims as a “slut” and a “whore.” She was herself suspended after she punched a student who came up to her and said, “I hear you love being raped in the ass.” Another victim claims a school administrator told her it would be better for her to stay home until tensions “blow over.”
At this point, according to the family members and friends of the three victims, the teens have all left Norman High School because the hostile environment there became too difficult for them to face. “They’re struggling, they’re having a really tough time,” student organizer Danielle Brown said at a recent press conference. “They want to come to school and they can’t.”
Jezebel has a detailed (and triggering) account of the assaults and cruel aftermath that has driven the survivors out of school.
Tales of rape survivors facing harassment from their peers — particularly among high schoolers — have become so commonplace, I fear this revictimization is becoming just as normalized as sexual violence itself — newsworthy only in the extreme cases, like those of Audrie Pott and Rehteah Parsons, when it actually, literally kills people. That’s certainly how Norman High seems to have treated it. Despite the fact that the school supposedly has a “zero tolerance” anti-bullying policy, while the girls faced a widespread campaign of slut-shaming and deliberate silencing (one was warned to “watch her back” if she talked about the assault), school officials did little more than advise them to “come back when it calms down next semester” and “just focus on your schoolwork and ignore all these people.”
Today’s walkout is organized by activists behind the Facebook group Yes All Daughters and participants will be Tweeting and Instagraming using the #yesalldaughters hashtag. The protestors are demanding that, among other things, the school implement bullying and sexual assault prevention education for students and faculty immediately, hire a victims’ rights advocate, and generally do whatever it takes for survivors to “feel welcome and safe at all times on school grounds.” In short, for the girls’ right to an education to be restored.
Quote of the Day: “They don’t wake up and say, ‘I’ll brush my teeth and go have an abortion.’” by Maya Dusenbery, at Feministing 9:01 am / 24 November 2014
“These women who come to us are not idiots. They know what they are doing. People can’t get that. Women take this seriously. They think about it. They don’t wake up and say, ‘I’ll brush my teeth and go have an abortion.'” – Dr. Curtis Boyd
Texas abortion providers Curtis Boyd and Glenna Halvorson-Boyd have worked in abortion clinics since right after Roe v. Wade was decided. They’re currently on the FBI watch list as potential domestic terrorism targets and have been warned not to give media interviews. But despite the safety risks, in this profile at the Guardian, they’ve decided to speak out about the current rollback of reproductive rights. The Boyds say the stigma around the procedure has gotten worse over the 40 years they’ve been doing this work. They had imagined that by now abortion “would be available in every family practice, that there would be no resistance. Every medical school would be teaching it.” Instead, Curtis says, “We wake up and think, ‘My God what has happened?’”
Ancient Warriors – Episode 07: Spartans (History Documentary) by Jennifer Armstrong, at ASK APE 8:27 pm / 23 November 2014
It makes me so sad, It makes me so sad! To see all the names in gold up there on the honour roll. After your sacrifice there will be better life. But then I think of all the things you could have had. It makes me so sad.