An Uber Ambivalence: Employee Status, Worker Perspectives, & Regulation in the Gig Economy
This article uses ethnographic research on gig worker advocacy groups in California to make sense of an apparent paradox. Extant survey research finds that a majority of Uber/Lyft drivers in the U.S. do not want to be employees. And yet, drivers and gig worker groups aggressively advocated to pass AB5, an internationally heralded bill in California that makes it very likely that they are considered employees under state law. I argue that the paradoxes embodied in the perspectives of workers in my research can be theorized as attitudinal ambivalence. This ambivalence toward employee status was informed both by their relative powerlessness in relation to gig companies and by the uncertainties and insecurities specific to app-based gig work. Overwhelmingly, drivers both wanted employee benefits and feared how the companies might behave as an employer. Rather than re-shape employment laws and restrict worker benefits to accommodate the policy prescriptions of app-enabled gig companies, regulators may use these research findings to expand the benefits available through the traditional employment regime.
Keywords: Gig Economy, Employee Status, Uber, Gig Work, Law & Ethnography, Resistance