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2:55 AM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Editorial: Fatal crash involving Uber is tip of iceberg

In this Dec. 13, 2016 file photo, an Uber driverless car heads out for a test drive in San Francisco. Police in a Phoenix suburb say one of Uber's self-driving vehicles has struck and killed a pedestrian. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg,File)

In this Dec. 13, 2016 file photo, an Uber driverless car heads out for a test drive in San Francisco. Police in a Phoenix suburb say one of Uber's self-driving vehicles has struck and killed a pedestrian. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg,File)

Reader poll

Should cars drive themselves? Would you feel safe in or around self-driving cars? (Select up to two answers)

  • Yes, I would feel comfortable riding in a self-driving car 10%
  • No, I would not feel comfortable riding in a self-driving car 47%
  • I would feel safe as a pedestrian or bicyclist with self-driving cars on the road 6%
  • I would feel unsafe as a pedestrian or bicyclist with self-driving cars on the road 37%

1240 total votes.

If we squint even a little closely at the startling events of Sunday night in Tempe – where a woman was struck and killed by a presumed self-driving Uber car – it’s easy see that this tragedy is only the latest in this lauded startup’s continuing history of problems with labor and a blatant disregard for women’s safety, too.

The trail winding, seemingly inevitably, to the Uber accident in Tempe is paved – not only with numerous sexual assaults committed by poorly (or never) vetted Uber drivers – but also with lawsuits and court rulings, in the United States and elsewhere, too, in which Uber has been held accountable for its attempts to get around regulations that protect workers.

While it has been forced to make some concessions to its labor force, Uber, meanwhile, seems to have found its final solution to circumventing all labor regulations – using automobiles that drive themselves.

In Britain – home of that beloved novelist, Charles Dickens, who brought to the world’s attention in his many literary works the shameful and dangerously exploitative conditions in which laborers of his day eeked out their meager living – lawmakers in Parliament say Uber treats its workers as Victorian-style “sweated labor.”

The Guardian, of London, has reported on testimony in Parliament regarding dozens of Uber drivers who said they felt “forced to work extremely long hours, sometimes more than 70 a week, just to make a basic living,” often earning less, even so, than Britain’s national living-wage laws allow.

But in what’s known as the “gig economy” – in which contracted workers, regarded in legal terms as “self-employed” – minimum-wage regulations don’t apply. In a clever workaround of hard-won legal protections for laborers, those who participate in the gig economy are understood, in legal terms, to enter of their own accord into a mutually agreed upon contract with a company, such as Uber.

But last year a court in North Carolina ruled in favor of Uber drivers in a class-action lawsuit. The ruling allowed the drivers – throughout the United States – to be classified as employees, rather than contracted workers. The drivers’ lawyer, Paul Maslo, is quoted in The New York Times after that victory: “The ruling today is going to allow drivers across the country to band together to challenge Uber’s misclassification of them. They are employees and should be getting minimum wage and overtime as required by federal law.” And some cities, such as Seattle and New York, are allowing Uber drivers to form collective bargaining groups.

In an apparent concession, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in an open letter wrote, “The social safety system, which was designed for a very different economy, has not kept pace with today’s workforce.” His letter acknowledged, “At a basic level, everyone should have the option to protect themselves and their loved ones when they’re injured at work, get sick, or when it’s time to retire.”

Meanwhile, Uber is attempting to replace its underpaid, overworked drivers with robotic cars.

But in 2016, British lawmaker Frank Field released his report – “Sweated Labour, Uber and the Gig Economy” – that documents how startups, like Uber, are contributing to labor’s slide backwards into the Victorian era’s notorious exploitation of workers. Field complains that businesses, and their investors, who profit in the gig economy are off loading the risks of doing business.

Some of those risks that Uber has imposed carelessly on the public – throughout the world, including in Tempe, Arizona – are the result of Uber’s insufficient vetting of its drivers. For example, in the accident that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg Sunday night, the so-called “backup driver,” who was behind the wheel of the car, but not operating it, was a convicted felon who had served time in prison for armed robbery and other charges. Uber has declined to comment on the driver’s criminal record.

In Boston this week, an Uber driver was charged and arrested on rape charges, as other Uber drivers have been throughout the world in the years since Uber’s founding in San Francisco in 2009.

As the public has observed repeatedly since then, Uber is by no means or measure a good citizen. And even though Gov. Doug Ducey has, since taking office in 2015, signed two executive orders allowing the testing of autonomous vehicles throughout Arizona, local governments, including throughout the Quad Cities region, must remain vigilant to protect citizens in this region from these abuses that Uber has imposed on communities throughout the world, including in Arizona.

by Tempe Police

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