Uber urges White House to include gig workers in coronavirus stimulus

(Reuters) - Uber Technologies Inc’s chief executive on Monday called on U.S. President Donald Trump to include independent drivers and delivery workers in the country’s planned $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus package and urged U.S. lawmakers to change labor laws in the long term.

FILE PHOTO: Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi speaks during a meeting with the Economic Club of New York in New York City, New York, U.S., December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Lawmakers in Washington are discussing a deal to pump more than $1 trillion into the economy to limit the economic damage caused by the coronavirus health crisis, in addition to the hundreds of billions of dollars in fiscal and monetary stimulus that has already been deployed to prop up the world’s largest economy.

The Trump administration is also considering here a plan to send checks to individual Americans and families to help them weather the crisis, although details of the proposal remained to be worked out by Congress.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in a letter to the president said the rights of so-called gig workers, who are currently not included in the federal aid proposal, had to be strengthened.

He also called on lawmakers from both parties to pass new laws that would allow independent contractors to be provided with more benefits without classifying them employees.

"My goal in writing to you is not to ask for a bailout for Uber, but rather for support for independent workers and, once we move past the immediate crisis, the opportunity to legally provide them with a real safety net going forward," Khosrowshahi said in the letter here.

The status of Uber’s drivers and delivery workers as independent contractors is crucial to the company’s business model, as Uber is not required to pay for health insurance and other employee benefits.

As contractors, Uber drivers are generally also not entitled to workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.

California, the most populous U.S. state, in January implemented a law that makes it harder for gig economy companies to classify their workers as contractors.

Uber and other companies, including smaller rival Lyft Inc and food delivery companies, oppose the law, saying their workers cherished the flexibility that comes with on-demand work. Uber, Lyft and Doordash have earmarked $90 million for a planned November 2020 ballot initiative that would exempt them from the California law.

Khosrowshahi in his Monday letter called on the federal government and state governors to update labor laws, establishing what he called a “third way” that would grant gig economy workers more protections and benefits without classifying them employees.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru, Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot