Seattle’s proposal to allow unionization of Uber drivers highlights tough realities of “sharing” economy

Uber's David Plouffe is in Seattle this week hoping to head off a law allowing Uber drivers to unionize.

Uber’s David Plouffe is in Seattle hoping to head off a law allowing Uber drivers to unionize.

The upcoming Seattle debate on a proposal to allow unionization of Uber drivers highlights all the contradictions of the so-called “sharing” economy.

When you get right down to it, what’s being “shared” is a job, divvied up into tiny splinters by complex software controlled by corporations which, in Uber’s case, take 20 percent of the gross — and are worth billions of dollars to shareholders.

That’s why Uber spokesman David Plouffe, who starred at a Vancouver Board of Trade presentation just a few weeks ago, likes to talk about Uber as a sun-drenched workers’ paradise, where drivers can plug in a few hours a week to pay a kid’s tuition, save for vacation . . . or even struggle through a lay-off. This is “job sharing” as a ticket to economic emancipation.

But what are Uber drivers doing the rest of the time? The reality for many workers is two or even three jobs, just to make ends meet.

Is Uber great for riders? Everyone says so, despite concerns about safety, pricing and accessibility. Is it great for drivers? Apparently not, because drivers in a number of cities are talking about organizing.

For the vast majority of the modern workforce, insecurity is the operative word, creating what British economist Guy Standing has called a “precariat” of hard-working people who don’t know if they’ll have work from one hour to the next.

This “job sharing” is driving poverty and inequality. If everyone could count on a decent job at decent pay, our society would be a better place.

But in the “sharing” economy, the one thing you can be sure of is uncertainty.

(Note: before you write to ask why Vancouver doesn’t have Uber, remember that Provincial Transportation Minister Todd Stone has warned Uber the firm must have Passenger Transportation Board approval to launch. So far, Uber has not applied. And before you write to ask when Vancouver will “allow” for wider unionization, remember that labour law is regulated provincially as well.)