California Labor Secretary Julie Su is under consideration for a promotion to US Labor Secretary once Joe Biden takes office. As a disabled worker who would be harmed by nationwide adoption of the policies she has pushed in California, I am begging him not to pick her. In 2015, Su, then California Labor Commissioner, ruled that Uber drivers were employees, not independent contractors. She has sought to aggressively enforce this classification. This has been an ongoing fight, culminating in Prop 22 this year, where 58.6% of Californians voted against forcing gig workers to be employees. I know it’s fashionable for the affluent and educated left to support classifying everyone as employees, because it sounds compassionate. But as a disabled college dropout, one of the working class people you’re purportedly fighting for, please hear me out on why it’s not. And, try taking an Uber or a Lyft sometime and talking, really talking, to your driver about their life. I guarantee you a lot more than you expect will echo my sentiments here.
App delivery driving has been a godsend for me (Uber, GrubHub, DoorDash, InstaCart, you name it I’ve done it). Turning it into more of a traditional job would almost be like a death sentence. I suffer from a disability that makes it impossible for me to hold steady employment. Specifically, borderline personality disorder. The main symptom of BPD is that my life is a constant emotional roller coaster. And I do mean constant. I can be happy one minute, sad the next, angry the one after that. The anger is the one that’s really hard from an employment perspective. I also have trouble suppressing my emotions and getting on with life the way other people would. I haven’t been in a fistfight since high school, but it’s kind of surprising that I haven’t. I yell, and cuss, and scare the living daylights out of people when I’m out of control. You may fantasize about giving your boss a piece of your mind someday as you deliver your resignation letter and get ready for the sweet promotion you have lined up. I’ve actually done it, a bunch of times, except I didn’t have anything lined up. I’ve told several bosses what assholes they were, and it’s never worked out. The more forgiving ones let the first time go, maybe even the second and third, but eventually they get tired of it. As one of the more understanding ones explained to me as he canned me, “I get what you’re going through and I sympathize; I really do. But I have 14 other people here I’m responsible for and I can’t risk you blowing up on them.” The best case is absenteeism. I don’t always know when I’m going to have mood swings, but sometimes I wake up in the morning and can already tell. On those days, I would just call out sick. But 8 hours is a long time, and just because I’m fine at 9am doesn’t mean I will be at 5pm. And some weeks or months are so bad that all the absences get me fired.
When I tried Uber Eats for the first time I was 54 years old and had never stayed at one job for more than about 6 months. I was living on my brother’s couch and had worn out my welcome. My younger brother. For those of you with siblings, you know how embarrassing it is to be the older one, who’s supposed to be successful, and be dependent on the younger one. I was getting SSI, but you really can’t live on $733/month. And even getting signed up for that had been a nightmare. Two years of appeals just to get it. Because the thing with behavioral disorders is they want to say it’s all your fault. They can’t SEE anything wrong with you, you look normal, so you must just get fired all the time because you don’t want to work, and if you just tried harder to behave you’d be OK.
So here’s the thing with delivery apps: if I’m having a bad day, I don’t have to work. No one will fire me for deciding to take the day off. Even if I decide to work today but find myself in a rage, I can take the rest of the day off, no questions asked. Just gotta finish the delivery I’m on when I start feeling it. I try to take the shortest-distance deliveries I can just to help control that. And if I start losing control of my emotions before I’ve actually picked up the food, I can cancel, as long as I don’t do it too often.
I make about $40,000/year now, after never making more than half that in my 40-odd years as a working-age adult. I have weeks where I can’t work at all. But I also have weeks where I successfully work 80 or 100 hours. I NEED to work those hours when I can, because I need to make up for the days I don’t work. But I can’t predict in advance which days will be which. I can’t commit to a schedule, because I just don’t know. Would it be nice to have overtime, or paid sick days? You betcha.
But I need the flexibility so, so much more. If Uber has to pay overtime to drivers, the most likely outcome isn’t that I make time and a half for my 80 hour weeks. It’s that I can’t work the 80 hour weeks at all. I’m stuck at 40 hour weeks, or even less if they are worried about having to provide expensive benefits to someone who doesn’t consistently work full time. Once they have to pay out those kinds of benefits, they’re going to insist on getting their money’s worth. That means something more like conventional employment. That means I’m out. Back to marginal or no employment, back to living with my brother, back to collecting Social Security.
Joe Biden, please don’t do this to me. Pick someone else. Anyone else but Julie Su.