GIG ECONOMY

Lyft Releases Survey Showing Most Independent Contractors Don’t Want to Be Classified as Employees

It contends poll results back its argument that laws focusing on reclassifying gig workers are misguided

According to a poll commissioned by Lyft, 71 percent of the independent contractors surveyed said they believed the freedom of being an independent contractor outweighs the benefits of being an employee. Last week, an appeals court granted Lyft and Uber an emergency stay from needing to classify drivers as employees, allowing ride-sharing services to continue after a threatened shutdown in California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
August 24, 2020 at 6:00 am ET

With the backdrop of an ongoing legal battle and upcoming ballot initiative vote in California that will determine if drivers for ride-hailing apps in the state are classified as full-time employees, Lyft Inc. is doubling down on a familiar message from gig economy companies: Most independent contractors don’t want to be employees. 

In a poll commissioned by Lyft, 71 percent of the independent contractors surveyed said the freedom of being an independent contractor outweighs the benefits of being an employee, according to a copy of a memo detailing the results, which was shared exclusively with Morning Consult. 

Respondents also overwhelmingly said that they would rather be considered an independent contractor than an employee (82 percent) and that their employment classification is a “good arrangement” for them in their lifestyle (90 percent).

A little over half (53 percent) said ride-hailing drivers should continue to be classified as independent contractors, while nearly 1 in 5 (19 percent) said drivers should be reclassified as employees. 

The survey was conducted by the Global Strategy Group online from Aug. 4-18 among 1,092 independent contractors, including “business owners or co-owners, independent contractors, freelancers, or gig workers who work full- or part-time for at least one client,” per the memo. The survey’s definition of contractor also includes those who are self-employed. (The margin of error is about 3 percentage points.)

Lyft plans to share the data with policymakers, voters and other stakeholders nationwide in the coming weeks to back up its argument that drivers on its platform value their independent contractor status and that policymakers should instead focus on policies that would give contractors some of the health and financial benefits full-time employees receive. 

“Policymakers who are focused on traditional employment as a panacea need to see these results,” said Campbell Matthews, a Lyft spokeswoman, in a statement to Morning Consult. 

Gig economy companies, which typically include ride-hailing apps and food-delivery apps, say their services pave the way for lawmakers on the city, state and federal level to modify employment laws, which the companies say don’t cater to the needs of a modern workforce and fail to account for self-employed workers. 

Lyft, Uber Technologies Inc. and DoorDash Inc. are backing a California ballot initiative known as Proposition 22, which would allow companies to keep drivers and other app-based workers as independent contractors. The measure also would create various worker protections, such as guaranteed minimum earnings and offering health care benefits to those who work at least 15 hours each week.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, contended in a New York Times opinion piece this month that contractors should also qualify for unemployment insurance and get paid sick leave benefits while also maintaining the flexibility of their schedules.

Lyft’s new polling data provides more support for a common assertion by companies that run apps reliant on gig workers, that those who work on their platforms are doing so because they crave the flexibility to set their own schedules and work whatever jobs they want. 

A Morning Consult poll that more narrowly focused on self-identified gig workers — which was conducted in August 2018, when the U.S. economy was much stronger — found that just over half of the 498 gig workers said they’d pick having more flexibility and shorter hours even if it meant less pay, over higher compensation but longer hours. 

But the gig workers had mixed feelings about their contractor status: 51 percent said they’d want to stay in the gig economy, while 49 percent said they’d prefer to have a full-time role. 

The Morning Consult survey defined gig workers as those who collect a considerable portion of their income from a mix of freelance and contract jobs and includes both full-time and part-time gig workers. In comparison, 62 percent of Lyft’s independent contractor respondents work for their own business full time or part time without employees, 26 percent are freelancers, 19 percent are independent contractors and 9 percent are gig workers.

Lyft said the two surveys aren’t direct comparisons given the phrasing of the questions and the dates they were conducted. It also said it saw the questions in its survey as gauging the views contractors have of their overall job status, not about whether they enjoy the flexibility of their schedules.  

The gig worker business model has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, especially in California, where an employment law known as AB5 went into effect in January, imposing restrictions on who can qualify as an independent contractor. Last week, Uber and Lyft narrowly avoided shutting down in the state when a judge paused the implementation of a court ruling that the two companies are violating California’s employment law by not classifying their workers as employees. The emergency stay lasts until October, when an appeals court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case. 

As the pandemic rolls on, a spotlight has been cast on the lack of protections afforded to ride-hailing drivers and food-delivery workers, prompting lawmakers across the country to try to find a new path forward. In Congress, for instance, Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) introduced a bill (S.4276) in late July establishing a $500 million emergency fund at the Labor Department to fund portable benefits on the state level, empowering the relevant state employment offices to provide gig workers unemployment insurance.

This story was updated to correct Campbell Matthews’ name and clarify details in Proposition 22.

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