As Uber publicly grapples with the moral dilemma of having built an entire-ass company around exploitative wage practices, the CEO Dara Khosrowshahi now says that if California forces the company to reclassify its contractors as full-time employees, Uber will temporarily shut down in its home state. Conveniently, it appears this shutdown would last for exactly as long as it would take for Uber to figure out whether it can continue being evil.
Earlier this week, a judge ruled that Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees, ensuring those workers will receive bog-standard benefits like minimum wage and overtime—benefits that tech ghouls have claimed they shouldn’t have to cough up. Now, Uber’s chief is threatening to temporarily cease operations in California until November if he’s made to treat his workers like human beings instead of a stepping stone towards the company’s automation delusions.
“If the court doesn’t reconsider, then in California, it’s hard to believe that we’ll be able to switch our model to full-time employment quickly. So I think that Uber will shut down for a while,” Khosrowshahi said Wednesday in an interview with MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle.
The November deadline coincides with a vote on California’s Prop 22. The company is banking on voters to support that ballot proposition—which companies like Lyft, Uber, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates have invested a stupid amount of money supporting—which rolls back the key piece of state legislation designed to regulate these so-called “transportation network companies.” Prop 22, a kind of loophole for these types of app-based gig economy companies, would allow them to continue classifying workers as independent contractors, albeit with additional labor and wage policies. It would not, however, give these contractors all of the protections afforded by full-time employee status. If that sounds familiar, that because it’s largely identical to Uber’s “third way” manifesto which Khosrowshahi recently unveiled in the pages of the New York Times’ op-ed section.
Khosrowshahi made it clear that Uber would shut its business down in the state until the vote, arguing that Uber would need time to hire and restructure operations. However, tellingly, he added, “Obviously, we would look to comply with the law long-term.” This clarification makes it very difficult not to read a prolonged Uber blackout as anything other than corporate foot-stamping—especially because (at least in pre-pandemic days) a quarter of its rides were being booked in just five cities: London, Sao Paolo, New York City, San Fransisco, and Los Angeles. Uber has since lost its the ability to operate in London, while its future across Latin America is shaky at best. Shuttering two of its biggest markets for good is simply not an option for a company that, even with some creative math, posted a quarterly loss of almost $2 billion.
Asked for further comment about an apparent shutdown on Wednesday, an Uber spokesperson told Gizmodo that Khosrowshahi’s comments were “consistent” with a motion the company filed in court on Tuesday. In that motion, Uber argued that, should the company be forced to reclassify workers, it would “almost certainly” force Uber to shut down its business in the state and “irreparably harm Uber and all who rely on its rides app to generate income for them and their families—particularly in the midst of a pandemic.”
If Uber wanted to continue operating—and again, it is very much in Uber’s interest to do so—it is well within Uber’s power to make that happen. The company’s had a full year to prepare for this transition. So if push comes to shove and Uber does pull the rug out from under its own drivers and the communities reliant on its service, you know exactly who to blame.