Uber Wants to Export Prop 22 to Europe

If Uber gets its way, European gig workers would continue to be excluded from the continent's labor protections.
February 17, 2021, 2:00pm
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Image: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images

In a white paper published this week, Uber called on European Union officials to implement a framework where gig workers would continue to be classified as self-employed, similar to the recently passed Proposition 22 in California, which Uber and other gig giants aggressively pushed and literally helped write. 

The move comes amid increasing scrutiny from the patchwork of legal systems within the European Union’s 27 member states. As Uber riders sue to get a peek into its black box algorithms, earlier this year an Italian court ruled that these very same algorithms can be held liable if they discriminate against workers. And, Tuesday, an appeals court in the Netherlands ruled that couriers of the popular food-delivery app Deliveroo are in fact employees. 

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With its own potentially landmark case regarding the employment status of its workers coming up in the U.K. Supreme Court this week, it’s unsurprising that Uber is adding even more munition to its already intensive lobbying efforts across the continent. 

In a blog post accompanying the white paper titled “A Better Deal”, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi pushed for a vague set of reforms and rehashed the familiar argument that classifying riders as employees would be a death blow to their flexibility. 

“We’re calling on policymakers, other platforms and social representatives to move quickly to build a framework for flexible earning opportunities, with industry-wide standards that all platform companies must provide for independent workers,” Khosrowshahi wrote. “This could include introducing new laws such as the legislation recently enacted in California. Or based on a more European model of social dialogue, where platform workers, policymakers and social representatives work together to set earning principles.” 

Of course another way to set “industry-wide standards” would be to just classify riders as employees, but that would mean that Uber might have to provide its drivers with the health care, minimum wage, and paid time off benefits that come from doing so. 

While Khosrowshahi’s rhetoric sounds nice on paper, his invocation of California’s Proposition 22 makes clear what Uber is actually looking for here. Presented to voters as a way to avoid price hikes—which happened anyway—the gig industry-sponsored citizen ballot measure essentially offered a few weak concessions in exchange for the ability to continue to exploit their workers, who often already make below minimum wage. 

While Uber is presenting the implementation of a Proposition 22-style system covering the European Union as “progressive,” the reality is that such a move could lock workers for years to come into a system that continues to exclude them from the continents’ traditionally strong welfare protections. 

Uber did not respond to a Motherboard request for comment.