What kind of company would fight attempts to limit its workers from working excessively long hours, then turn around and try to sell disability insurance policies to those same workers? Uber, of course.
Uber is fighting, in its inimitable tooth and nail style, a proposal in Massachusetts that would limit drivers to a mere 12 consecutive hours, or 16 hours in a single day. That’s right: Uber wants its drivers to be able to drive for more than sixteen hours in a day, every day.
Maybe Uber hasn’t read the literature: fatigue causes accidents. That research shows that fatigue can cause slower reaction times, more errors and decreased cognitive ability. Fatigue worsens hand-eye coordination. As one report put it, “Drowsy driving can make your driving worse than if you have been drinking alcohol.” Uber shrugged off these concerns in a letter to Massachusetts regulators, saying that it found a 70-hour per week limitation on driving “particularly problematic,” since “many individuals in many different industries work 70 hours in a seven-day period.” Maybe so. But for drivers carrying passengers, the Department of Transportation has rules specifying generally that these drivers can’t be on the road for more than 60 hours over 7 consecutive days.
If you think Uber’s opposition to this reasonable rule is shocking, wait until you hear this: while Uber wants its drivers to be able to drive unlimited hours, it will sell them insurance against the accidents that are sure to occur. The company has recently announced a new accident insurance plan that it is piloting in eight states, including Massachusetts.
Just as Uber is taking no responsibility for its drivers’ and passengers’ safety, it is not paying for this new insurance: drivers and consumers are. According to news reports, the company’s new plan involves charging its riders a five-cent-per-mile surcharge for Uber-provided personal injury insurance to benefit drivers in case of work-related injuries. Drivers who want to opt in will have to pay 3.75 cents a mile to be covered by insurance.
Insurance is a good thing: taxi jobs are among the most dangerous in the country, with five times the rate of death on the job as other occupations. But instead of paying workers’ compensation premiums to cover all of its workers, as responsible businesses do, Uber will charge for the medical care and time-loss benefits that the rest of us get by virtue of being employed at a job, without having to pay for it out of our own pockets.
Uber’s benefits will be inferior to those provided under traditional workers’ compensation law. Press reports say the insurance will cover medical expenses, up to half of a driver’s average weekly earnings, and survivor benefits up to a maximum of $150,000. By comparison, under Massachusetts law, workers don’t pay for workers compensation and injured workers are entitled to 66% of lost wages. Survivor’s benefits cover two-thirds of the decedent’s wages, and are paid until the spouse dies or remarries.
But Uber isn’t just cheating workers. It is continuing a well-developed strategy of misleading its riders while it underpays its drivers. Consider this: all consumers are being charged for insurance for drivers, but only drivers who are willing to pay the freight are actually covered. You may think you are doing a good thing by paying a higher fare to help your driver out, but you may not be helping anyone but Uber.
There is a much simpler answer to both of these problems. Employees get overtime pay, in order to lessen the temptation by employers to overwork their employees. Employees also get workers’ compensation. While Uber has doggedly refused to treat its workers as employees, state agencies in Massachusetts could follow those in California, Oregon, and Alaska and audit the company, collect the payroll taxes they are owed, and provide real protections to Uber drivers. Given its history of thumbing its nose at virtually everyone, it’s pretty clear that Uber is not going to do that on its own.
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