Whether or not you believe Uber should be allowed to classify its drivers as independent contractors or full-time employees, a report from Bloomberg today shows a new consequence of Uber’s low-pay, hands-off policies: After working gruelingly long shifts, many drivers find themselves sleeping in parking lots. Constantly.
The report isn’t pretty. Bloomberg dug up anecdotes about a 7-Eleven in Chicago known as the “Uber Terminal.” Another 7-Eleven is the go-to spot for drivers in Queens, New York. Drivers in Columbus reportedly enjoy a Walmart off the Jack Nicklaus Freeway.
But it’s the personal stories that are most jarring. Take Walter Laquian Howard, a driver in Chicago. He told Bloomberg that he left his previous job, presuming Uber would be a smooth career transition, but “it’s getting harder and harder.” Trying to take advantage of more ride opportunities in the Windy City, he ends up sleeping in a convenience store, located 40 miles from his home in Indiana, upward of five nights a week.
Howard has been parking and sleeping at the 7-Eleven four to five nights a week since March 2015, when he began leasing a car from Uber and needed to work more hours to make his minimum payments. Now that it’s gotten cold, he wakes up every three hours to turn on the heater. He’s rarely alone. Most nights, two to three other ride-hailing drivers sleep in cars parked next to his. It’s safe, he said, and the employees let the drivers use the restroom. Howard has gotten to know the convenience store’s staff—Daddy-O and Uncle Mike—over the past two years while driving for this global ride-hailing gargantuan, valued at $69 billion.
“These guys have become my extended family,” said Howard, 53. “It’s my second home. We have this joke that I’m the resident. I keep asking them: ‘Hey, did my mail come in yet?’”
Uber struck a hands-off approach in a statement to Bloomberg, leaning on a cheery tenant of the company that its drivers are offered flexibility—like the flexibility to sleep in parking lots because that’s how they can manage to earn a sustainable income.
“With Uber, people make their own decisions about when, where and how long to drive,” the company’s statement said. “We’re focused on making sure that driving with Uber is a rewarding experience, however you choose to work.”