In just a year, Uber reports that its Bay Area driving force has more than doubled to reach 20,000 "driver-partner" contractors, a number that presents a fascinating conundrum. As the Chronicle reports, though Uber would appear to be among the area's largest employers, the transportation company doesn't count its driving team as "employees." So, then, how do we count it?
There are distinct benefits to being an Uber contractor rather than an Uber employee. Your time is your own: Non-employees at the company can work part-time, set their own hours, and to some degree make their own rules. But the trade-off is a well-understood and costly one. Health insurance, overtime, paid vacation, workers’ comp, disability: The typical benefits conferred to employees are denied to contractors.
Of course, some drivers are fighting tooth and nail for employee status. But the jury is still out on that front. Two partial victories for drivers were delivered last month when judges ruled against Lyft and Uber's motions for summary judgment. Basically, the courts acknowledged that drivers do have a case against their would-be employers about the fact that they maybe shouldn't be kept as independent contractors, since they do perform the core of Uber's business.
So, with 20,000 — let's call them local workers — Uber is among the Bay Area's largest — let's call it worker-havers. For context, Safeway has 18,450 employees , Kaiser Permanente has 30,324, the City and County of San Francisco has 26,901, UC Berkeley has 23,962, and UCSF has 20,295. Those numbers come from a 2014 list compiled by the Business Times.
Uber, it should be noted, has just 2,000 actual benefit-receiving employees. And nationwide, the company had 162,037 drivers as of last December. For context in terms of taxis, SF has around 1,800 taxi medallions. Those may be passed around, but the figure represents the maximum and fixed number of taxis that can be on our roads at any time.
Uber also plans to open “a space where partners can come in and get all their questions and all their problems answered face-to-face with a real person.” But the company has a clever spin on this huge force of non-employees it not-employs: They're all entrepreneurs! As the company writes, "At Uber we are thrilled to be playing a role in unlocking economic opportunity and empowering entrepreneurs across the Bay Area, and we are even more excited to be able to accomplish this at such a large scale."