Is Uber Trolling for Immigrant Labor?

Is Uber Trolling for Immigrant Labor?
File photo by Alice Salles/Flickr

We know the ride-hail apps have been eager for talent.

They advertise incessantly for new drivers. Recruiters set up at gas stations. Some take out Craigslist ads that offer eye-opening cash.

But maybe, just maybe, Uber and Lyft are running out of drivers to find.

Stories abound of ride-hail "partners" who take home much less than the apps promise after their cut and overhead expenses such as fuel, insurance and car payments are calculated. There are no benefits. Wages vary widely. And there are dangers.

Is Uber turning to immigrant drivers for its next pool of potential workers?

Yesterday the firm announced that it's in the midst of a drive to recruit 12,000 drivers who would be aimed at Los Angeles' Latino communities. It hosted a recruitment drive in East Los Angeles, with the goal of finding drivers for its uberESPANOL service.

Of course, it's being spun by Uber as a benefit to Angelenos.

"UberX and uberESPANOL allow drivers to make money on their own time, and the flexibility gives them the freedom to meet family commitments, further their education or continue to work in their full-time profession, all in the language of their choice," the company said in a statement. "On the rider side, uberX and uberESPANOL enable people to get a safe, affordable and reliable ride, regardless of the neighborhood they live in or the language they prefer to speak, in a matter of minutes."

Under California Public Utilities Commission guidelines, Uber is supposed to give all communities the same level of service regardless.

"Uber committed to creating 12,000 flexible work opportunities for Angelenos over the next 12 months across Los Angeles," said Tatiana Winograd, Uber spokeswoman. "Today, with the launch of Work on Demand in Espanol, we are bringing that commitment to Latino communities and bringing earning opportunities to our Spanish-speaking neighbors."

The company argued that barrio access to its service could reduce the need to purchase an automobile, an especially onerous expense in some immigrant communities.

Uber was quick to note that a number of Latino groups, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which Uber expressed incorrectly as the League of United Latin American Cities, and "Hermandad" — it's not clear if it meant Hermandad Mexicana — were on board with the recruitment effort.

The firm also touted the endorsement of Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who called on-demand jobs like Uber's "essential to so many Angelenos, including those in our Latino communities."

Is it possible Uber wasn't aware that Buscaino is not Latino? 

Some critics are understandably wary.

Dave Sutton, spokesman for "Who's Driving You?," a campaign by cab, limo and paratransit drivers to bring awareness to ride-hail firms' driver screening processes, says Spanish-speaking immigrants are a soft target for ride-hail recruiters.

"Uber has a work-from-home scam quality to it," he told us. "Someone whose second language is English might not be aware of drivers' unhappiness."

Sutton worries that potential drivers who speak mainly Spanish aren't getting balanced information about Uber.

"I hope there's sufficient awareness in the Spanish-speaking community that Uber has a long history of taking advantage of drivers," he said. "Uber does everything in its own self-interest and constantly tries to spin it as a public good."


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