Uber Accidentally Offers Drivers Health Insurance, Then Retracts Offer

"Uber can help cover your healthcare costs," an email received by some US drivers read. Two weeks later, the company apologized to those drivers, saying it could not cover their healthcare.
June 10, 2021, 4:39pm
Uber driver
Photo by Siegfried Modola/Getty Images
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

Two weeks ago, Uber drivers mistakenly received an email from Uber offering to help cover their health insurance—a benefit the company has refused to provide its drivers everywhere besides California since its founding in 2009.

"Uber can help cover your healthcare costs," the email read. "If you need health coverage, there’s no better time to apply for a healthcare plan."

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But the promise was too good to be true. On Wednesday evening, the company backtracked on this offer, claiming it was a mistake. 

"We sent you two emails with the subject line 'It’s a great time to get health coverage,'" the apology email said. "One of these two emails told you that Uber can help cover your healthcare costs. Unfortunately, we made a mistake sending this email to you, as this policy only applies to drivers and delivery people in California."

The blunder was clearly unintentional, but also a cruel reminder of the employment benefits—healthcare, paid sick leave, overtime pay, the right to unionize—that the company has refused to provide to its workforce for years. Many gig economy workers rely on government assistance for healthcare or go uninsured. 

A spokesperson for Uber confirmed that in late May, Uber sent drivers and delivery people in the US information about the types of healthcare available to them, mistakenly sending some drivers info that only applied to California drivers. "Our support teams are working directly with anyone who was affected and we regret the error," they said.

In 2020, Uber and other gig economy companies spent $200 million on a ballot initiative in California exempting their drivers from a law that gave their gig workers employee status. One of the concessions was providing a healthcare subsidy to drivers who work enough hours to qualify.

Jake Stergos, an Uber driver in St. Louis, Missouri received both emails and does not have health insurance. "It is genuinely galling that Uber took two weeks to send a clarification that we are not receiving health insurance," Stergos told Motherboard. "It'd be really nice if I could receive health insurance from Uber. I haven't been to the doctor in years." 

Edward Burmila, an Uber driver in the Raleigh-Durham metro area in North Carolina who also received the emails, said they were another example of the hoops Uber jumps through to ensure its workforce doesn't receive employee benefits. 

"Everything they write is carefully constructed to maintain this fiction that the people that work for them aren't drivers or employees," he said. "We can't say you work for us and we're not going to pay your health insurance. They're constantly tap dancing around us not being employees."