Synthesis – Uber and the neoliberalization of WKU

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John Winstead

Synthesis provides analysis on local and national topics from a perspective of social justice often allied with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Bowling Green will be yet another city to facilitate the ride-for-fare app Uber. When the news was announced on Facebook by SGA President Jay Todd Richey, it was lauded by many. Despite Bowling Green effectively bringing a taxi 2.0 into its limits, the commotion around the decision seems more in line with an announcement of tuition reductions or plans to stop wasting money on frivolous building projects. 

The reason for this commotion has to do more with the general WKU student zeitgeist than it does with the app itself. There is a deep-seated inferiority complex many at WKU seem to exhibit—least among them Gary Ransdell. Said as someone who has come to love this community and this town: Bowling Green will NEVER be Louisville, and if Ransdell is reading this, WKU will NEVER be UK. These attempts, which seem more metropolitan, come off much more desperate than innovative. 

Bringing Uber to Bowling Green may be symptomatic of an irrational need to feel urbanized, but the app itself is not immune from scrutiny. According to the people who make up Uber’s workforce and provide the services from which it profits, Uber workers are not employees but rather hired contractors; this means they are not entitled to the legal benefits of being an employee. In fact, Uber is currently embroiled in a class-action lawsuit in California over this exact discrepancy. In other words, we opened our arms to a company that is being sued for unfairly compensating its workers. Our money would be better spent expanding the pre-existing public transit system rather than expanding an unattainable car culture. 

What affects the Bowling Green community directly is who these employees/non-employees will be. My concern is for the working poor and immigrant populations in Bowling Green. They will undoubtedly become the major demographic making up Uber Bowling Green’s workforce. They are also the people less likely to sue for wage theft or unfair working conditions (which Uber is currently being sued for) given their lack of financial stability. 

In short, my position is that this decision is not a good one. We should have never invited a company into Bowling Green that was being sued by its “employees.” I have no pithy way to wrap up my thoughts on the issue other than this: Be vigilant, and do better next time.