Uber wants to seem noble with new ads casting single parents and immigrants

The company is looking for "genuine" stories of drivers who "value the flexibility and consistency of Uber's platform."

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Uber is looking to cast its drivers in an ad campaign promoting the "flexibility and consistency" of its platform. With the ads, it seems Uber is trying to expand on its success since California passed Proposition 22, which enshrines in law ride-hail drivers as independent contractors.

Disingenuous — According to a description of the casting, Uber is looking to feature single parents, immigrants, and drivers from other backgrounds to participate in the ads to boost its image. All of Us Casting, the agency behind the campaign, is offering $500 for one day of filming and an additional $1,500 if a story is used. Considering that Uber drivers often barely make enough to get by, it's hard not to wonder whether some might shill for the company just to get that check.

Proposition 22 was a crucial victory for gig economy companies, as it exempts them from California's AB-5, a piece of legislation passed last year that requires companies that hire independent contractors to hire reclassify them as employees if they're integral to the business. Uber, Lyft, and others spent more than $200 million to pass Prop 22 and won in a landslide victory as nearly 60 percent of Californians voted in favor of its passage.

Disputed claims — Gig economy companies have long argued that freelance workers enjoy the flexibility to choose their own hours. Critics, on the other hand, say these workers are desperate and these billion-dollar companies wouldn't be viable without withholding fair compensation. They fought so aggressively to withhold traditional employee benefits and protections, after all.

Under Prop 22, there's no eligibility for state unemployment insurance, much less worker protection, no overtime, no sick leave, and no workplace discrimination protection. Working for these companies isn't something people want to do — they do it because greater systemic issues have forced them to. And for Uber, a fragile workforce without better options is actually a good thing. Wealth is hard to accumulate if you can't take advantage of someone else's need.

Uber and the rest of the gig companies are required to provide some new benefits to workers under Prop 22, but experts believe they aren't likely to equal the same compensation a worker would receive on payroll. For instance, to receive healthcare stipends, drivers must be active — meaning actually providing rides, not idling — 15 hours per week, and even then they must be the primary policyholder on a healthcare plan. A guaranteed minimum wage of $13 per hour similarly only kicks in after 15 hours of active work per week. Upwards of 37 percent of time working for Uber is spent waiting for a ride, and goes uncompensated. A University of California, Berkeley study estimates that drivers will earn wages as low as $5.64 per hour under Prop 22.

But emboldened by its win in California, and a rising stock thanks to pandemic food deliveries, it looks like Uber is gearing up to take on the rest of the United States.