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Uber Has Considered Benefits for Its U.S. Drivers, CEO Says

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said today the company has considered offering benefits to its drivers. Uber already offers some European drivers parental leave benefits and some medical and sick leave compensation.

Khosrowshahi, in a stage conversation with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at that company’s annual Dreamforce conference, said that temporary workers needed benefits that would travel with them as they moved among jobs. He said, Uber would like to provide benefits “if it’s something that can work in the ecosystem,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Individually contracted workers rarely receive benefits beyond payment, sometimes to avoid creating a legal relationship that appears more like employment.

Uber hires its drivers as contractors, and avoids the overhead and labor-law liability that goes with formal employment. Unlike many tech companies and other U.S. firms, Uber largely works directly with each driver instead of through contracting firms. Contractors at Microsoft, Dropbox, Google, and elsewhere often receive some benefits from the company that holds a contract with a client, albeit typically of far less value than people employed directly.

In the European Union, which has a substantially different legal regime covering employment, Uber now makes its limited benefits available to drivers who have completed 150 trips over the previous eight weeks. That group is estimated to be about 150,000 people, and applies in 21 European countries. Benefits beyond parental leave include medical payments and disability coverage outside of what the country’s health system offers.

Over the last several years, Uber and other gig-economy companies have been sued over contract status, or had decisions made by regulators as to whether their workers are actually employees.

In Australia, the country’s Fair Work Commission issued a decision early this year that found Uber hadn’t created an employee relationship, because the work relationship was transactional: a driver could accept or reject any ride, and Uber pays fees based on those rides. In April 2018, a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled that Uber drivers were independent contractors under federal law. But in late 2017, a British tribunal found that Uber’s requirements meant they were employees in the UK. (Uber said it would appeal.)

When reached for comment, Uber provided a joint statement about portable benefits in Washington State signed earlier this year by the company’s CEO and billionaire serial tech entrepreneur Nick Hanauer (active in increasing the minimum wage and other worker equity issues), and the head of the local arm of the Service Employees International Union. The statement argued in favor of creating a system in Washington for benefits that would follow temporary workers, but no public action has taken place since early in the year. An Uber spokesperson pointed to that statement, as well as to Uber’s insurance partnerships for drivers, one of which has a premium in the U.S. of under 4 cents a mile only for miles driven, and another form of which is included for UK drivers at no cost.