EVEN A HALF-EATEN apple shoved in Dara Khosrowshahi’s face by his young son during a Zoom interview does not ruffle Uber’s boss. “Not now, sweetheart,” was his calm response. Mr Khosrowshahi needs all the unflappability he can muster. Besides picking their president, on November 3rd Californians will vote on a ballot initiative, Proposition 22, that will shape the future of the ride-hailing firm and other gig-economy platforms. The companies have spent nearly $200m promoting the measure, in an effort to preserve their business model.
At issue is whether freelance drivers, couriers and other app-based workers should be treated as employees, entitled to benefits such as unemployment insurance and sick leave. “Prop 22” is a stab at balancing worker protections with the flexibility that lets people work when they want while ensuring that customers never have to wait long for a ride or a meal delivery.
Founded 11 years ago, Uber created the template for the gig economy. Its software matches demand and supply in real time. At first riders and drivers benefited, as Uber and Lyft subsidised rides in a battle for market share. In the past few years the duo began to cut costs, egged on since they went public last year by investors. Uber’s “take rate”, the share of fares it keeps for itself, now averages 26%, up from 20% in…