AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And now for All Tech Considered.
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CORNISH: Uber is waiting for a federal judge to approve a major legal settlement reached late last week. It involves Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts. And the settlement would require the ride-hailing company to pay up to a hundred million to drivers. But in exchange, Uber could continue to treat those drivers as independent contractors, not employees.
Now, that got the attention of yellow cab companies, venture capitalists and labor unions. And here to discuss why is NPR's Aarti Shahani. And Aarti, first just remind us what's at stake here. What were the legal questions being raised with these California-Massachusetts drivers?
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: The massive legal question, I would call it - not like a million-dollar question but a billion-dollar question, with a B - is, are the drivers employees or independent contractors? It was in the interest of Uber to make sure that drivers could remain as they currently are contractors who don't get Social Security, Medicaid other benefits, et cetera.
So in the settlement as it's proposed, Uber wins on that question. The drivers continue to be as they are. But in exchange, Uber is paying out a hundred million dollars, and they're paying that to drivers who basically have done at least one ride in these states since the terms of the settlement are accepted by the judge. And the payout drivers get is proportionate to how many hours they've worked.
CORNISH: All right, so the settlement was just for California and Massachusetts. What about the other 48 states?
SHAHANI: Well, to be clear, this is a settlement. It is not a judge deciding on the issues raising in the original litigation, so it's still an open question for the other states as well as these states to take on. So we're going to see lawsuits around the country continue to pop up from drivers.
And then apart from the lawsuits from drivers, there's also litigation going on around whether Uber is handling insurance liabilities sufficiently, as taxicab companies have to. And there's also the question of the right to unionize and whether drivers can collectively bargain.
CORNISH: You know, back to the subject of pay for a second because one reveal out of this settlement was around the issue of tipping - essentially that tips aren't included in the fare under Uber.
SHAHANI: That's right. I mean, and if you go Uber's site, what it says verbatim is, your fare is automatically charged to your credit card on file. There's no need to tip. So you think, OK, there's no need to tip; they're already including that. But in fact, they're not.
And now, under the settlement, Uber is going to make that clear to passengers and allow drivers to collect a tip. One question out there is, how is that going to be? Are you suddenly going to bring cash into your Uber car? My prediction on this is that Uber is just going to follow the lead of their competitor Lyft. You know, in the Lyft app, you're able to include a tip after your ride, and it's just all charged to your credit card.
CORNISH: What does this all mean for the so-called gig economy? Uber is synonymous with these kind of contract or freelance work apps. What are the implications here?
SHAHANI: Well, you know, this is really key - is that this litigation and what happens with Uber is extremely important for an entire economic organization. About half a million people here in the U.S. drive for Uber every month. I'm not talking passengers - drivers - about half a million. There's not a single other company you could name that's assembled a workforce that quickly. I mean, Uber started in 2009, so, I mean, that kind of growth is crazy.
And thinking about the future, Uber has a few assets. They have a vast fleet of cars. They have the tools and the relations needed to pair people. So of course they're working on a lot more than car rides. Take UberEATS - food delivered right to you, and Uber takes comission on your lunch.
So if you think about comparisons and putting this in perspective, you remember there was once this little company called Amazon that sold books online. It was just a bookstore (laughter). But obviously Amazon wasn't just a bookstore. It was radically changing retail as we know it and small businesses and their viability as we know it. With Uber, what they're really testing in terms of the social order is, how much can we max out on flexibility in the labor relationship and minimize loyalty - so you know, doing work as we do in dating.
CORNISH: Aarti, before I let you go, I know you're going to keep reporting on this, and you actually want the help of our listeners. What can they do?
SHAHANI: I do want the help. Here's the simple request. We don't actually know what Uber drivers are making. So I don't know if it's 35 an hour. I don't know if it's even minimum wage. So if you are an Uber driver, you get in your app the weekly breakdown. You get the hours worked, and you get how much you're taking home for it.
We would love a screenshot of that weekly breakdown for a recent week. You can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org - again, that's a screenshot of your earnings - email@example.com - and include a way to reach you.
CORNISH: NPR's Aarti Shahani, thank you so much.
SHAHANI: Thank you.
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