Gig Economy Drivers Struggle As Big Oil Posts Record Profits
The top five oil companies saw a 300% increase in profits during Q1 this year compared to last.
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Big oil is getting rich on the backs of the working class.
Chevron, Exxon, Shell, BP and ConocoPhillips raked in $35 billion in profits in the first quarter this year, more than a 300% increase from Q1 last year. The largest 28 oil and gas producers took in nearly $100 billion collectively in Q1. Despite these record profits, prices at the pump have continued to increase, hitting repeated record highs, and exceeding $5 a gallon nationally with some outlier stations charging as much as $7 and $10 a gallon. Gas prices have risen drastically since June 2021, when the average was around $3 a gallon.
In response to rising prices at a time of record profits, President Biden has sent a strongly worded letter to oil executives. I guess that’s…..a step. The White House is considering a gas tax holiday, which could come by Friday. This would only cut the cost by 18.4 cents per gallon.
Gig economy workers who drive their personal vehicles as part of their work dropping off food, giving people rides or delivering groceries for companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash are especially bearing the brunt of this corporate profiteering. While everyone is impacted, people who drive their own cars for gig work, obviously, end up using—and buying—more gas.
Rideshare and delivery companies sell the public on the myth of “flexibility” as a reason people ultimately sign up to drive, when it’s actually one of necessity. More and more, people (even retirees) rely on the gig economy to make ends meet. While it’s been difficult—even for the government—to quantify the full size and scope of the gig economy, there’s a general understanding that gig work is primarily for supplementary income because wages haven’t kept up with inflation for decades and it doesn’t offer benefits traditional full-time employment often does.
In a 2019 blog post, Lyft boasted that 91% of its drivers worked 20 or fewer hours per week. 66% of drivers have jobs other than Lyft and only 5% drive full time. The year prior, Uber reported over half of its drivers only worked 10 hours or fewer a week.
Lily, 45, drives for UberEats on the side to supplement her household income, which isn’t enough to cover rent, groceries, utilities and other necessities as well as education and services for her son, who has special needs. Inflation in other sectors is cutting into her take-home pay as well.
“The pay for fares is lower and people are tipping less now because of higher prices on everything,” she said.
An example of an egregiously low payout and tip from a DoorDash Driver (Source: Reddit)
Users in Reddit communities for gig economy workers have been commiserating over rising costs which has created steep pay cuts in this side-work that was intended, ideally, to help close a financial gap.
“I struggle to make even a hundred bucks a day now. It's really not worth doing with gas. Way too many drivers. It's like a desert with the orders, and the few that do come through are just insulting,” one user commented.
“I actually stopped Ubereating because 3 times I made about half of what I put in gas,” another added.
“I’m boned dude. I’ve been scrimping and saving everything I can. Working every dash I can. And anytime I’m not, I’m working on projects that will hopefully get me out of dashing,” a frustrated user posted. “I’d get another job, but I’m genuinely worried about getting a job only to not be able to pay rent this month. Things are still 10-11 an hour here tops. Maybe I look into remote work? Idk man. I just feel sick.”
Between gas prices, across-the-board inflation and wear-and-tear on their personal vehicles, gig economy drivers are facing myriad problems while generating revenue for companies that fight relentlessly to avoid classifying them as employees so they can shirk any obligation to provide benefits. Despite advertising blitzes and savvy marketing from gig economy companies, this structure ultimately creates worse conditions for workers. In March, DoorDash publicly lauded itself for its Gas Rewards Program, a paltry incentive structure to help Dashers mitigate expenses due to rising gas prices. After several weeks it quietly shuttered the program, just as prices began to encroach on $5 a gallon.
In April, the Biden administration announced plans for an emergency waiver by the Environmental Protection Agency to allow for the sale of higher ethanol blend gas, in an attempt to mitigate price increases. The administration boasted this would help people save 10 cents per gallon. But because higher ethanol gas results in fewer MPG, gig economy workers quickly realized they were hitting empty sooner than usual.
Gig workers falling victim to corporate greed while Washington simply tinkers around the edges is yet another reminder why they need robust worker protections. Just today, drivers with the support of Rideshare Drivers United, filed suit against Uber and Lyft challenging the “contractor” classification status of gig workers. I hope they are successful and it’s sorely needed. We saw how disastrous Prop 22 was going to be in California before a judge ruled it unconstitutional.
Companies like Uber and Lyft pushed—with hundreds of millions spent on ads to hoodwink voters—for this ballot initiative that would have ensured gig workers would not be classified as employees and obstructed their ability to unionize, among other anti-regulatory ploys that undermine the very people these companies rely on to generate revenue.
But what about a long-term solution on gas? Leaving the current system in place only guarantees more corporate profiteering and ultimately more extreme weather due to climate change the industry creates. That’s why there’s growing chorus of smart, environmentally-conscious people with clear-eyed calls to nationalize the oil and gas industry.
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