Uber accidentally offered its drivers a basic human right, which it would never do on purpose
Imagine the relief that you would feel if, out of nowhere, someone offered to cover a major monthly expense for you. That is what Uber drivers thought was happening when they received an email from the company that offered them the opportunity to apply for a health care plan and have Uber cover some of the costs.
It took just two weeks for those dreams to be dashed. According to a report from Vice, Uber followed up with them two weeks later to inform them that in fact, the company would not only not be helping cover costs of health care, but would not be offering them health care at all.
The emails retracting the offer of support reportedly started hitting inboxes Wednesday. "We sent you two emails with the subject line 'It's a great time to get health coverage,'" the message, which has been shared online by drivers, read. "One of these two emails told you that Uber can help cover your health care costs. Unfortunately, we made a mistake sending this email to you, as this policy only applies to drivers and delivery people in California." So apparently it is still a great time to get health coverage, just not with Uber's help — and good luck figuring out the rest, because you're on your own!
The offer for Uber to help cover health care costs appears to refer to a provision of Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that passed in California last November. The proposal, which Uber spent more than $200 million lobbying for and pushed over the finish line with aggressive propaganda campaigns, undid California's Assembly Bill 5 from 2019, which required companies in the state to treat independent contractors like employees. While Proposition 22 effectively exempted gig economy companies like Uber from having to extend benefits like guaranteed wages and health care coverage to its drivers, it did offer a concession in the form of a common fund that is available to subsidize some costs for drivers in California, including health care expenses.
According to The Verge, the original email that Uber mistakenly sent included a promise for subsidies that ranged between $613.77 to $1,277.54 depending on their insurance plan and how many hours they worked. It's not hard to see how this could be a potentially game-changing offer for drivers, many of whom make below minimum wage and work without any vacation or paid time off available.
Uber confirmed the mistake to Mic. "In late May, we sent U.S. drivers and delivery people information about the types of health care options that may be available to them," a spokesperson for the company said. "These options do differ in California than [in] the rest of the country, and we mistakenly sent some drivers an email that only applied to those in California. Our support teams are working directly with anyone who was affected and we regret the error."
What is most jarring about Uber's mix-up is not necessarily the initial mistake. It's the fact that it took two whole weeks for the company to actually address it. During that time drivers for the company, under the false impression that they would be able to get support for their health care coverage, signed up for plans. According to Business Insider, Uber is reportedly offering to reimburse the premiums for the first month of coverage. After that, it appears the drivers are once again on their own, and likely will have to let the insurance coverage lapse.
It is cruel enough that Uber does not offer full health care coverage to its drivers no matter how many hours they work. But the company found the one thing that is actually even crueler than that: offering coverage, then pulling the rug out from under them.