On a cold night in the middle of February, six individuals in the quaint county of Kalamazoo, Michigan were spending the winter night with their friends, coworkers, and children. In a turn of seemingly random and horrific events, a man in a car shot and struck each of them down. The authorities, soon after the atrocious events, found and took the shooter into custody. However, they had trouble pinpointing a motive or a link between each of the killings. The only fact that seemed to be of any interest to the public was that the driver was a hired contractor of Uber.
The media-frenzy that followed the shooting rampage proved to be a headache for Uber and other ridesharing companies like it. The Kalamazoo incident confirmed the suspicions many Americans had: ridesharing was not safe. The simple fact that a mass murderer could be hired by Uber made Americans wonder whom exactly they were trusting to get them from point A to point B.
Uber, in response to the criticism over their driver’s background check process, has consistently stated that their method of using Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, and other forms of identifications to search crime databases, vehicle records, and sex-offender registries is more efficient and thorough than the method used by cab companies. Additionally, Uber touts that its advancements in technological safeguards, like GPS tracking on every car, photos of the driver, the option to share estimated time of arrivals, and the ability to rate drivers, create an even safer environment than those provided by traditional cab companies.
These explanations, while extensive, failed to provide the assurance Americans and their elected officials were looking for. In Maryland, before the events in Kalamazoo had even happened, elected officials began work on legislation which aimed to ensure safer ridesharing. What the elected officials, representatives from ridesharing companies, cab companies, and insurance companies settled for and passed on the final day of the 2015 legislative session was a measure to standardize the ridesharing process of employee screening.
However, the issue that sparked the most controversy during the bill deliberations was the question of requiring ridesharing companies to use fingerprinting in their employee screening. Uber and other ridesharing companies vehemently opposed any mandate to use fingerprinting. Cab companies on the other hand urged legislators to require the ridesharing companies to enforce a step cab companies and other public service jobs like doctors, nurses, and caretakers must abide by.
The resolution between the two contrarian opinions was that ridesharing companies had nine months to prepare a case before the Maryland Public Service Commission proving that their method of screening was as effective if not more effective than those used by the cab companies. In the meantime, ridesharing companies did not have to fingerprint their employees or hired contractors.
Fast-forward to the present and the nine months given to ridesharing companies like Uber are up. On Thursday, November 17th the ridesharing companies will have begun to plead their case to the state Public Service Commission. On the eve of the trial, Uber and other ridesharing companies are claiming that using fingerprinting as part of their employee screening process is discriminatory to minorities.
A spokesperson from Lyft, another major ridesharing company, claimed that “fingerprinting is a decades-old technology with significant limitations. By relying on incomplete federal data and outdated arrest records, fingerprinting disproportionately disadvantages minority communities.” Essentially, the arrest records are often not updated in the fingerprinting database and those who were wrongfully arrested and have been clear of all charges could still be presented as a criminal. Often, those who are wrongfully arrested are those in minority communities.
However, critics of the ridesharing companies’ employee screening process often point to the possibility of potential employees faking or borrowing another’s identity. Fingerprinting would solve that issue.
Ridesharing companies’ argument becomes precarious in their failure to answer the question of why the companies simply cannot use both their current screening procedure and fingerprinting? If in fact the issue with fingerprinting is that it presents outdated information, then they can simply correct the wrong information with updated information they already collected in their current screening process.
Customers have the right to know who they are trusting to drive them safely from point A to point B. However, using procedures that discriminate against the hiring of minorities is equally unacceptable. If ridesharing companies use both their current procedures and fingerprinting while constantly cross-checking information to verify their information, then they can ensure the safety of the riders and the equal employment of the drivers.
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