Spent behind the Wheel

Drivers' Labor in the Uber Economy

2021
Authors:

Julietta Hua and Kasturi Ray

Exploring professional passenger driving and the gig economy through feminist theories of labor

Bringing together sociological and legal perspectives with feminist theoretical insights, this book examines the case study of contemporary professional passenger driving in the U.S. It is a must for readers interested in critical studies of technological change and the gig economy, showing how drivers’ capacities are drained for the benefit of riders, corporations, and the maintenance of the racial state.

Are taxi drivers in today’s era of the ride-hail app performing care work akin to domestic and household labor? So argue the authors of Spent behind the Wheel. Bringing together sociological and legal perspectives with feminist theoretical insights, Julietta Hua and Kasturi Ray examine the case study of contemporary professional passenger driving in the United States. On the one hand, they show, the rise of the gig economy has brought new attention to the industry of professional passenger driving. On the other hand, the vulnerabilities that professional drivers experience remain hidden.

Drawing on interviews with drivers, labor organizers, and members of licensing commissions, as well as case law and other published resources, Hua and Ray argue that working for ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft shares similarities with driving for taxi companies in the impact on driver lives. Lyft and Uber sell the idea of industry disruption, but in fact they entrench long-standing modes of extracting the reproductive labor of their drivers for the benefit of consumer lives. Reproductive labor—conventionally understood as feminized labor—is extracted, but masked, behind the masculinized, racialized bodies of drivers. Professional driving is thus best understood alongside domestic and other gendered service work as reproductive labors devalued and often demonetized to benefit the national economy.

Spent behind the Wheel is a must for readers interested in critical studies of technological change and the gig economy, showing how drivers’ capacities are drained for the benefit of riders, corporations, and the maintenance of the racial state.

Julietta Hua is professor of women and gender studies at San Francisco State University. She is author of Trafficking Women’s Human Rights (Minnesota, 2011).



Kasturi Ray is associate professor and chair of women and gender studies at San Francisco State University.

Contents


Introduction: Uber Drivers as Service Workers


1. It’s Not the App: The Labor of Driving


2. Financializing Driver Lives: Workers’ Compensation and Unemployment Insurance


3. Driver Criminalization: Systemic Racism in the Passenger Ride Industry


4. Who Gets Disability Justice? Rethinking Accommodation


Conclusion: Drivers in the Time of COVID-19


Notes


Acknowledgments


Index