Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction especially when it comes to putting and keeping others “in their place”. Since August, the American world@work has been rocked by three hitherto difficult to predict revelations.
First, the U.S. Business Roundtable publicly confessed that “Shareholder Primacy” is no longer its holy grail. Second, the myths-shattering State of California passed AB-5 declaring that giant gig economy companies who built their shareholder profit margins on the backs of denying minimum wage, overtime pay and other basic survival benefits to the workers they “engage” will now need to classify this precariat as employees. Starting in the “gold rush state,” humans could still be remunerated as contractors “if and only if” their work is outside the normal scope of the “parent” company’s business.
Third, not to be deterred from doubling down on its patented, “first blood” extractive culture, Uber, that noted frat-boy social conscience icon in the words of its chief legal officer, Tony West, says it “won’t comply with California law requiring contract workers to be reclassified as employees because “drivers are not core to its business.”
That’s right, Uber drivers are not core to Uber’s business model which is providing app-based transportation where humans get to man/woman the wheel. Perhaps there’s something we don’t know about autonomous vehicle state of practice. Perhaps the immediate future foretells absolute reliance on drone-delivery for derivatives such as Uber-Eats. Or, maybe because embedded economic class racism has been so profitable for so long that like a publicly denying addict popping opioids in the middle of a big-tent recovery revival, Uber just can’t get off of its rocky mountain high exploiting others.
The emerging, campaign-driven, national political debate defending “creative destruction” capitalism against deliberately distorted socialism doesn’t begin to connect these three social policy trial balloons. Instead, their connectivity togetherness lies in the self-exploding myth that commoditizing labor, like torturing prisoners, is profitable to perpetrators. Once the externalities are drawn beyond the confines of gated community privilege enclaves, the social cost math is obvious even to commercial psychopaths.
But treating all human beings with dignity and fairness is not core to predatory gig economy business models. Robert Kuttner in the American Prospect noted recently that, “Corporations may be ‘citizens,’ but it’s hard to find less of a patriot than a U.S.-based multinational”. It’s not enough to steal consumer data. Mortality expectancy rates based on America’s zip codes show how shareholder primacy power-paradigms birthing cruel economic inequalities steal lives.
The Business Roundtable’s new-found conviction, thanks to Uber, has just witnessed its Conradian “Heart of Darkness”, “staring into the moral abyss” moment”. May it quickly learn to walk the talk.
If there ever was a case for stakeholders becoming shareholders, Uber is the poster-spawn. California has realized its dream of a “long arc of justice” gig economy where technology blissfully innovates societal nirvana has turned into a nightmare anchored on both sides by San Francisco and Los Angeles, statistically America’s leading inequality metropolitan regions. Silicon Valley in the middle, spewing out unicorns without profits or head count, still believes there’s an app for hunger, homelessness and cheap help.
Trapped in this nightmarish middle of a consumption demand-driven economy where “children of a lesser god” are controlled, commoditized, and consumed; being patriotic means blanket shunning & shaming Uber like a “bait and switch” plague until it reclassifies all drivers and workers to receive the full respect and benefits earned as employees under California AB-5 equating people to profits.
While we can hope the accompanying Angela McRay/Liss-Riordan law suit puts the final legal nail into the Uber rip-off corporate coffin, a fuller sense of economic reparations still waits in California’s and the nation’s socioeconomic justice wings. Traditional taxi companies with driving employees “creatively destroyed” and damaged by Uber were also cheated by an unequal and now illegal playing field.
Michael A. Peck
September 12th, 2019