I drive for Amazon Flex and DoorDash. As I tried to change careers, health issues and caregiving duties landed me in the precarious world of app-based work. The companies I work for say that this type of on-demand work is flexible; it is anything but. When I start my day, I have no idea how many hours I will have to work to earn enough money to survive. Every app worker knows we’re one canceled trip, bad grade, or algorithmic quirk away from being deactivated (fired).
A colleague of mine in Philadelphia, Thomas Nock, is a Social Security recipient. He started driving for Uber in 2016 to supplement his income. In February, Uber deactivated Thomas’ account during the annual background check. There had been no change in his background and he was told it would be over in three to five working days. Two months later, Thomas is still unemployed.
Senate Bill 949 is a bill currently pending in Pennsylvania, drafted by the Silicon Valley app companies, that purports to provide benefits to construction workers, but instead guarantees that we can be treated as employees while still receiving inferior benefits and depriving us of our rights.
I think this bill is a bad idea. Not only does SB 949 exclude any salary guarantees, it does not guarantee benefits at all. The bill establishes an industry-led council to create all standards suitable for corporate profits. This allows Silicon Valley companies to control us more than they already do, while exempting them from complying with laws that protect workers’ rights.
Currently, app-based workers qualify for unemployment when we are unable to work through no fault of ours, as a result of a 2020 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, who said network companies control our work, and the conditions they claim to give us independence — like being able to log on and off — aren’t enough to withhold unemployment benefits. But these companies often refuse to cooperate with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, leaving drivers like Thomas struggling financially. Whose interest is it to create a separate, company-run unemployment system when so much has recently been devoted to updates to the state unemployment system?
Workers’ rights are only valid to the extent that we are able to enforce them. By calling us “independent contractors” – whether or not we are allowed to set our own prices or other markers of an independent business owner – the bill takes away our right to seek performance by the through government agencies to which any other worker has access.
Nothing about our work excludes us from the existing benefits that most workers enjoy. Many application pilots have served on the front lines of the pandemic. It is absurd that under a dark cloud of violence and murder transportation workers, any efforts that prevent us from accessing existing workers’ compensation insurance would be considered by our legislators. SB 949 only states that companies must “make available” accident insurance. In other words, they can just make us buy our own accident insurance like they already do.
“No good can come from codifying the right of these corporations to do whatever they want.”
The bill purports to guarantee our right not to be discriminated against, but it takes away our right to have formal discrimination complaints reviewed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. SB 949 also permanently prohibits us from recovering stolen wages through the state Department of Labor and Industry. Perhaps worst of all, SB 949 shuts us out of the National Labor Relations Acteliminating our right to negotiate our contracts or be protected from retaliation.
» LEARN MORE: I am a DoorDash delivery driver. I deserve both flexibility and a safety net. | Opinion
For many drivers, the only way to make ends meet is to open multiple apps. So if one is slow or pays less than expenses, they have the freedom to choose. SB 949 would take away our right to choose between the best offers from multiple apps at once, a common practice in our industry called multi-apping.
App companies are notoriously opaque and uncommunicative with their own employees as well as state lawmakers and regulators. Nothing good can come from codifying the right of these societies to do whatever they want. Under SB 949, no city or county would be allowed to set its own standards other than what the industry-run board decides. For example, if Philadelphia or Pittsburgh decide to require higher standards for drivers – such as a minimum wage standard found in New York or Seattle — SB 949 would prevent these standards from becoming law.
The SB 949 offers nothing that drivers want and need to do their dangerous and unpredictable job. He’s rolling out a red carpet for San Francisco’s tech giants to withhold taxes they owe our state and benefits already owed to their workers. There’s nothing stopping companies like DoorDash, Uber, and Amazon from providing perks now. We should continue to invest in and enforce the existing benefits system for the benefit of all workers, rather than letting app companies and venture capitalists dictate laws restricting the freedom of our state.
Patricia Hearons is a Philadelphia driver transitioning into the tech industry after years of research in neuroscience and data migration and validation.