Uber's CEO just endorsed a major safeguard against the looming threat of job automation

Michael Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times
  • Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote an open letter to business leaders and public officials urging them to consider offering greater benefits to contract workers.
  • The plea stems from a growing consensus that America’s labour force is getting more fractured in the so-called “gig economy.”
  • The rise of part-time work and the automation of jobs could put many people’s livelihoods in jeopardy if no frameworks are put in place.

The nature of American labour is changing. As concerns grow about whether workers in the “gig economy” can maintain basic standards of living, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has spoken out.

In an open letter signed by Khosrowshahi, and co-signed by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 President David Rolf along with Seattle entrepreneur Nick Hanauer, the group calls on Washington state to give contract workers access to health benefits and retirement planning.

“Leaders across business, labour, and government have publicly recognised the need for action, but a myriad of legal, policy, and political hurdles have – to date – prevented meaningful progress toward a new portable benefits system,” they wrote.

Economists and technologists have forecasted a fundamental shift in the way work is done in the US. Over the next few decades, these forecasts suggest entire industries will displace human workers with robots and artificial intelligence – potentially resulting in rampant unemployment and severe economic downturn.

Khosrowshahi, Rolf, and Hanauer suggest their model of a “portable benefits system” would help gig economy workers avoid succumbing to this looming threat. Even if people move from a full-time schedule to part-time work, they wouldn’t lose their benefits along the way.

Khosrowshahi has said Uber would prefer such a portable benefits system over hiring Uber drivers full-time, according to The Hill. However, legal and political hurdles prevent the company from awarding benefits to drivers.

In their letter, Khosrowshahi, Rolf, and Hanauer note the best way to begin building their benefits system is by starting small.

“The pursuit of local solutions will expedite the move from the theoretical into the practical,” they wrote, “unravelling the thorny issues and beginning to show how a portable benefits system can empower workers and enable technology to meet the growing demand for more flexible, independent forms of work.”

Read the full letter here.

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