Uber Among Region’s Biggest Employers, But Company Begs To Differ

By Carolyn Said
San Francisco Chronicle.

More Bay Area residents drive for Uber than bag groceries at Safeway. In fact, the biggest Bay Area employers are Kaiser, city and county of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, UCSF and Uber.

In the nine-county Bay Area, more than 20,000 people now drive for Uber, the San Francisco company said Tuesday. The number has more than doubled in a year.

Of course, Uber would be the first to say that those drivers are definitely not employees. Uber’s “driver partners” work as independent contractors. That means they don’t receive such benefits as health insurance, overtime, paid vacation, workers’ comp or disability, but they do have the freedom to set their own hours.

Many work for Uber part time, although an increasing number drive full time — which can add up to as many as 60 hours a week. Some drivers are now suing to be reclassified as employees.

Uber has enough local workers to rank it as one of the largest Bay Area places to work, ahead of Safeway, which has 18,450 Bay Area workers, according to the San Francisco Business Times. Kaiser Permanente has 30,324 workers, San Francisco has 26,901, UC Berkeley has 23,962 and UCSF has 20,295, according to the Business Times, which compiled those numbers in summer 2014.

Uber also has 2,000 full-time employees; it’s unclear how many are local, but presumably most work at its San Francisco headquarters.
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“We are thrilled to be playing a role in unlocking economic opportunity and empowering entrepreneurs across the Bay Area, and we are even more excited to be able to accomplish this at such a large scale,” wrote Wayne Ting, Uber general manager for the Bay Area, in a blog post about the milestone.

Uber said it will open walk-in “partner support centers” throughout Northern California. It now has a center in San Francisco on Vermont Street and will add such locations as Daly City, where almost a quarter of local Uber drivers live. Concord is another potential location, as Uber’s East Bay presence is growing rapidly. Uber said it has completed more than 500,000 trips in the East Bay since January.

In a video, Uber described the centers as “a space where partners can come in and get all their questions and all their problems answered face-to-face with a real person.”

In December, Uber said it had 162,037 workers nationwide, more than 15,000 of them in San Francisco.

Uber’s phenomenal growth also extends to fundraising — it has raised a stunning $4.9 billion, according to CrunchBase. However, the company has been dogged by controversies including how it vets and trains its drivers. Drivers organized protests when Uber reduced fares and increased its cut. Taxi companies and lawmakers often complain that it flouts regulations.

San Francisco has about 1,800 taxi medallions. While each medallion can be used by several drivers working different shifts, 1,800 is the top number of cabs that can be on the street at any given time.

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