Uber Drivers in UK to Get Paid Vacation, Pensions — What’s Next for US Contractors?

A young black woman drives a passenger in her car as a professional driver.
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Uber said it would reclassify 70,000 drivers in the UK as workers entitled to certain benefits, though it remains uncertain whether a similar move will happen in the U.S. anytime soon.

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The rideshare company made the announcement this week after the U.K. Supreme Court upheld a February ruling that Uber drivers should be classified as workers rather than independent contractors.

As CNN reported on Wednesday, Uber said that as “workers” — a unique U.K. classification that falls between employees and independent contractors — drivers will be entitled to perks such as a minimum wage, pension and vacation time. The designation only applies to ridehail drivers, meaning Uber Eats food delivery workers in the U.K. will still be classified as independent contractors.

While the decision is a defeat for Uber in the U.K., the San Francisco-based company probably doesn’t have to worry about similar nationwide measures being adopted in its home country anytime soon. Uber got a landmark win in California in November, when voters there passed a ballot measure called Prop 22 that exempts gig companies like Uber from having to treat its drivers like employees.

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As The Guardian reported at the time, that vote represented an important win for big tech companies looking to protect their business models, and it could serve as a model for legislation elsewhere in the U.S.

Although some individual states — including Illinois, Massachusetts and New York — are considering legislation to protect gig workers, those efforts might face weakening support following the vote in California.

Gig workers do have support in the White House, however. As CNBC reported last month, President Joe Biden backs legislation that would prevent companies from “misclassifying” employees as independent contractors. He also nominated a former union leader, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, to head up his Labor Department.

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Meanwhile, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has advocated for a third employment classification group that would allow for independent contract work while also providing protections and benefits of full employment, including portable benefits that move from one gig to the next.

And last week, House Democrats approved the PRO Act, a bill that would provide protections for workers trying to organize and make it easier for gig workers to join unions. But as NPR pointed out, the bill is unlikely to advance in the Senate, where there is little Republican support for the legislation.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte MagazineStreet & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, will be published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.

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