It seems everyone is talking about whether ride-share drivers should be classified as employees or independent contractors thanks to the California Labor Commission's recent ruling in the case of San Francisco Uber driver Barbara Ann Berwick. While the decision handed down by the Commission only applies to this one person, it could be a game changer in the long run, possibly leading to the reclassification of Uber drivers as employees.
I have been an Uber driver in Los Angeles for the past nine months and to be honest, the thought of becoming an employee of the company does not appeal to me. I've been down that road before, and after years of being a corporate drone, I enjoy being an independent contractor. It allows me the opportunity to generate income without draining all of my energy, leaving me with enough free time to pursue other endeavors.
Would being classified as an employee bring some perks such as reimbursements of monies spent on gas and tolls, accruing vacation time, and receiving medical benefits? Perhaps, but that's not always a guarantee. I recently worked for a production company that kept me on the freelance payroll, which is an employer's clever way of making sure its employees do not receive any of the aforementioned perks. However, I still received the same amount of headaches and frustrations that come with working a 40-hour workweek. So no, you don't always reap rewards from being deemed an employee.
One of the main components of Uber driving that I appreciate is that I do it on my terms. I don't have to submit a work schedule, or even worse, have one drawn up for me. I'm also not required to adhere to a dress code. Don't get me wrong. It's not like I'm driving around wearing beach bum couture, but at least I don't have to wear black Dockers and a polyester-blend polo with a "U" embroidered on the chest.
Employee classification could compromise the flexibility that I have come to know and love.
We seem to be living in an age of entitlement. People want guarantees when they embark on a new venture, especially a business-related one. The perception that ride-share drivers are owed money for start-up costs or investing in an entrepreneurial effort seems a bit off from my point of view. When we begin the application process we are fully aware that there are no assurances regarding income. Of course, most of us at some point have been regaled with stories of Uber and Lyft drivers who bring home upwards of $90,000 a year. Those urban legend stories are what inspire us to throw out hats into the ride-sharing arena. We have dollar signs in our eyes as we wait for the email that informs us we have been approved to drive.
Then we hit the road and within the first few weeks we realize that the expectation doesn't match up to the reality. At that point there are two options -- stop driving or start thinking about the best way to maximize income as an Uber driver. In my case, I tried to figure out the hours when demand is highest and what neighborhoods are more densely populated with ride-share requesters. It took some trial and error, but I now have a pretty good grasp on what I'm doing. And while there are no guarantees of where the day will take me, if I wind up in an unfamiliar area, I do not drive around aimlessly burning up gas and adding unnecessary mileage to my car. Instead, I find the nearest Starbucks, pull over, and enjoy a cup of coffee while I keep the driver's app open and wait for my next request.
There is more to being an Uber driving than just having the ability to operate an automobile safely and effectively. It also requires a certain amount of strategic planning. That's what it takes to be successful as an independent contractor. I have figured out how to make the most of my time on the road. I save my ride-share related receipts, such as gas fill-ups and car washes, because as any savvy businessperson knows, all those expenses are legitimate deductions during income tax preparation.
The bottom line is that Uber's business model works just fine, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The "sharing economy" that so many people are weary of is redefining America and giving people an opportunity to set the parameters for how they do business while carving out their own financial freedom.
This is the new America. Give me life, liberty and the pursuit of a Form 1099.
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