As Uber and Lyft drivers staged a strike on Wednesday, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) announced legislation that would require Uber and Lyft to pay for drivers’ Social Security and Medicare costs. Because drivers are considered “independent contractors,” they are currently required to pay Social Security & Medicare costs themselves. Haaland’s legislation would place that burden entirely on Lyft, Uber, and other multinational corporations employing large numbers of so-called independent contractors in the gig economy. Rep. Deb Haaland said in a statement “The gig is up.” She joins us from Capitol Hill.
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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Uber and Lyft drivers in cities around the world went on strike Wednesday to protest low wages and poor treatment of workers just days before Uber’s initial public offering, which could value the company at up to $90 billion. But while Uber prepares for what could be one of the biggest IPOs in history and executives plan to take home millions, drivers say their conditions are worse than ever. Drivers in Los Angeles, London, Melbourne, São Paulo, New York and other cities temporarily halted work Wednesday to demand Uber and other rideshare companies like Lyft treat drivers like full-time employees rather than as independent contractors, guarantee a livable income and end deactivations for drivers that can occur without explanation, among other demands.
AMY GOODMAN: The day of the strike, Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico, Deb Haaland, announced legislation that would require Uber and Lyft to pay for drivers’ Social Security and Medicare costs. Because drivers are considered independent contractors, they currently are required to pay Social Security and Medicare costs themselves. Congressmember Haaland’s legislation would place that burden entirely on Lyft, Uber and other multinational corporations employing large numbers of so-called independent contractors in the gig economy. Congressmember Haaland said in a statement, “The gig is up.”
Well, for more, Deb Haaland joins us in Washington, D.C., from Statuary Hall. And in New York, we are joined by Bhairavi Desai, the executive director and co-founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents over 21,000 taxi drivers in New York City. Deb Haaland, let’s continue with you. Talk about this legislation.
REP. DEB HAALAND: So Uber is about to go public, a $91 billion corporation, and again we have a large corporation that doesn’t value its workers. I came to Congress—working families sent me to Congress because I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. I know what it is like to be on food stamps. I know what it’s like to have to put groceries back at the checkout line because you don’t have enough money to pay for it. So this continues to be the situation. There is too much inequity in our country, in our world. And I think it is time for the big corporations to make right with workers.
Generally, if you are an employee, the company you work for pays half of your—it’s employer contributions. They pay half of your Social Security, half of your Medicare taxes. Right now Uber and Lyft are making their contract employees responsible for that. They’re not contract employees; they are workers. They’re workers for that corporation. They are responsible for their $91 billion corporation right now because they are the ones doing the work. And it is time for Uber and Lyft to pay their fair share so that workers can make a decent living, a livable wage and can support themselves and their families.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Congresswoman Haaland, could you explain what the loophole is, which you’ve pointed to in your statement, whereby large companies can dodge standard labor practices and employer contributions to Social Security and Medicare? What is that loophole?
REP. DEB HAALAND: It’s the classification. They classify workers as contractors rather than workers, rather than employees. So when you say that someone is an independent contractor, they are responsible for all of their own taxes, all of their own employment taxes and federal and state and every other tax. If they are classified as employees, then the employer picks up part of that tab. And so we are saying that by all intents and purposes, these workers appear to be employees and they should be classified as such.
AMY GOODMAN: What has been the response of Uber, as Uber is just about to go public, its workers having their wages dropped as they are about to make one of the largest public offerings in U.S. history?
REP. DEB HAALAND: Right. Well, you know, it is unfortunate that they have claimed that their employees, that their workers, make up to $21 an hour. We found that Uber and Lyft drivers make between eight and ten dollars an hour. And when you’re in a big city like the one I’m standing in right now, Washington, D.C., it is very expensive to live here, and you can’t live on a wage like that. So I am sure they’re not happy about it, but I came here to fight for working families, and that is what I’m doing.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Congresswoman Haaland, just to give a sense of the massive disparity, as you’ve pointed out, a large number—half—of Uber drivers don’t even make minimum wage, and Uber’s top five executives last year took home $143 million. Five executives, $143 million last year.
REP. DEB HAALAND: That’s sickening. That’s the inequity I’m talking about. It is so unfair that the big executives can make that much money when there are people that can’t afford to buy groceries. It is fundamentally unfair, it isn’t right, they don’t have a conscience and they need to pay up.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, New Mexico Congressmember Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native American congresswoman ever elected.