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Spin scooter CEO explains why his workers are considered employees

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  • Forty workers who manage Spin’s fleet of scooters in December voted to unionize. 
  • Even before the decision, the Ford-owned startup had classified the workers as employees instead of independent contractors, giving them access to the associated benefits that come with employment. 
  • In an interview, Spin’s founder explained why the investments in training and benefits may help the company win in the long fight against competitors Bird, Lime and more. 
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Contract labor is one of the perhaps the most divisive topic among transportation companies, and Spin — the scooter startup owned by Ford — has largely chosen to treat the workers who re-charge and manage its fleet as employees, instead of contractors.

In an interview with Business Insider, founder and president Euwyn Poon voiced support for the company’s roughly 40 workers who in December voted to join the Teamsters union. Contract negotiations are ongoing as part of that decision, but even before the vote many of the workers were already classified by Spin as employees instead of contractors used by its major competitors including Bird and Lime.

“We found that working with trained employees really helped our bottom line because they make better decisions out there in the field,” he said.

“It helps because they apply those learnings out there in the field while managing the fleet.”

Spin has now grown to 600 employees, Poon said.

But despite the current classification, workers said in a press release distributed by the Teamsters organization that they are seeking wages, health care and retirement security. Poon offered no details about what kind of contract the company might support.

Referring to the tax forms that contractors receive as opposed to the W-2s that full-time employees file, Poon said: “1099 chargers can sometimes yield spotty results because they’re obviously by definition on-and-off and not really trained.”

“They can’t be trained that well because they’re contractors,” Poon said.

Contract labor is prevalent in nearly all parts of the new mobility industry — a loose conglomeration of ride-hailing companies and scooter- and bike-rental operators. Lime and Bird, the other two large scooter companies, notably use contract labor to charge and move their fleets.

Uber and Lyft, on the other hand, use employees to move their fleets of bikes and scooters around, yet rely on contract labor to provide their core ride-hailing services.

The employee versus contractor debate has persisted in Silicon Valley. A new law passed by California legislators designed to shore up when exactly companies can and cannot use the workers has been hotly contested by the likes of Uber, Lyft and more. A consortium of the so-called gig-economy companies has pledged tens of millions of dollars to overturn the law in favor of their own benefits package.

For scooter companies specifically, the use of contractors often necessitates a certain level of gamification of incentives in order to ensure fleets are adequately maintained. These have included bonuses for chargers at certain times and locations or those who work for a certain number of consecutive days. Pay is usually on a per-scooter or per-charge basis, as opposed to hourly rates.

And as Spin grows in new markets, like Washington, DC, and San Francisco where it beat out competitors to lucrative contracts, it will need any leg up that it can find.

“There’s a certain limit to how well that can work,” Poon said. “We’ve found that investing in training our workforce has been a key advantage. I can’t even keep track of the 60 markets we’re in, they constantly provide feedback and what’s happening on the ground that we might otherwise miss.”

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