Uber Seeks to Crush Souls of Greater Pool of Gig Workers

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Uber, a company arguably just exploiting human workers while it figures out how to pivot to automation, is evidently looking to expand its labor pool beyond cab drivers and food delivery.

The company announced Wednesday in a blog post that it is launching Uber Works, a platform meant to connect employers with workers for gigs such as line cook, event staff, or warehouse worker. Uber says that through its Works app, pre-vetted workers can select from a range of shifts and opportunities for temporary roles.

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“Uber Works app users can get detailed information about shifts they’re interested in, including information about gross pay, work location and skills, or required attire,” the company wrote. “Uber Works also serves as a one-stop shop for all time-tracking needs, allowing users to clock in and out and log breaks.”

A spokesperson for the company said Uber Works is as of Thursday officially available in Chicago. The program has been operating in the city as a pilot over the last year, the spokesperson said, adding that “some” beta testing also took place in Los Angeles. While limited at launch to a single city, Uber states on the Works website that it has “plans to expand to more areas soon.”

Uber said in its announcement that for employers, Uber Works will provide a “reliable pool of vetted and qualified workers.” For workers, Uber said the platform will “ensure timely payments” and provide “more transparency and opportunities for feedback in the marketplace.” The company spokesperson told Gizmodo that workers are paid out within 48 hours following their completed shift.

In order to keep both parties accountable, Uber Works stated in its user guidelines that businesses may not require workers to perform jobs or tasks other than what was pre-outlined in the gig description and shouldn’t cancel shifts less than 24 hours before their scheduled to begin unless it’s “unavoidable.”

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As for workers, Uber Works will operate on a kind of strike system, with six strikes within a rolling 30-day window resulting in getting kicked off the app for seven days and 10 strikes within 30 days leading to a permanent ban. Here’s how Uber Works scores attendance and reliability under that system:

  • 2 marks for every 15 minutes late, up to 5 marks
  • 2 marks for canceling 2 hours to 24 hours before a shift start
  • 3 marks for canceling 30 minutes to 2 hours before a shift start
  • 4 marks for being sent home early due to behavior or uniform issues
  • 6 marks for canceling less than 30 minutes before a shift start or for a no-call, no-show.
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Uber Works states that two no-shows without notifying the hiring company during a 12-month window will also result in a permanent ban from the app. Workers are expected to show up in “proper attire” and do the work as it was described by the employer, the company said.

Uber said it’s partnered with the staffing agency TrueBlue, which it notes “employ, pay and handle worker benefits,” among other agencies. The Uber spokesperson said its partner agencies will provide employee benefits to workers as mandated by federal, state and local laws, including for health coverage and workers comp.

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That Uber is seeking to diversify its workforce is not especially shocking given that the company is hemorrhaging money and profitability seems pretty elusive at this stage. Uber Works head Andrey Liscovich told Crain’s Chicago Business that the platform “will give us a more diverse workforce than our ride-share client base. It will open the platform up to people who want to earn money but who don’t have cars.”

Meanwhile, the company faces an existential threat in California thanks to the state’s newly passed law, known as AB5, which could reclassify Uber drivers and other gig workers as employees entitled to greater benefits. Uber, which is headquartered in California, dubiously claims that it is a technology company, not a taxi company, and is thus exempt from AB5. The rollout of Uber Works appears to bolster the argument that its primary function is platform development.

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Neat as this whole job-on-demand thing sounds on paper, it’s still Uber. And Uber, as history has shown, tends to view human beings as a means of generating more money while it waits out the inevitable automation of service jobs. It also hasn’t been entirely forthright or even decent about employee classification for its Uber drivers. Whatever it claims now, there’s little evidence to indicate Uber will go out of its way to do right by its Works gig workers.

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