Rideshare Workers Protest for Fair Treatment

Photo courtesy of Aaron Parecki, Wikimedia

Today (May 8) and throughout this week, drivers from the rideshare apps Uber and Lyft are protesting. In some areas, drivers are striking, logging out of their apps and refusing to take passengers. In many other areas, they have planned protests and marches. It’s been widely reported that they’re asking for more pay, but that’s not what’s at the core of their protests.

What they want is for Uber and Lyft to stop getting away with breaking employment laws.

The Misclassification of Employees

The misclassification of employees as independent contractors is a growing problem. As more companies turn to hiring freelancers in order to keep labor costs down, many are ignoring the rules that are there to protect both employees and freelancers.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), if an employer exercises behavioral and financial control over the worker, that worker should be considered an employee, not an independent contractor.

Rideshare drivers are not allowed to set their own rates. Uber and Lyft determine not only how much the drivers are paid, but also how much they have to pay the apps in commission fees. In addition, they enforce strict rules regarding the condition of the vehicle, which rides drivers are allowed to take, and which routes they use when transporting a passenger. Furthermore, when a driver is deactivated by the company, drivers have no recourse to address or appeal their deactivation.

By exerting behavioral and financial control, Uber and Lyft have misclassified their drivers as independent contractors, when they actually meet the NCSL’s definition of employees. In fact, in April, Uber settled a court case with over 13,000 Uber drivers, agreeing to pay out $20 million – but without changing their independent contractor status.

According to a report from the National Employment Law Project and the Partnership for Working Families, Uber, Lyft, and similar companies have spent millions of dollars to convince lawmakers in over 40 states to either overrule or preempt local efforts to regulate ridesharing services.

“Transportation network companies – in particular, Uber – have spent millions of dollars in a blitz to strip cities of their authority to regulate city transportation,” said report co-author Rebecca Smith, senior counsel with the National Employment Law Project. “In the process, they’ve often stripped workers of labor rights as well.”

What Do Drivers Want?

According to Edward Escobar, founder of the Alliance for Independent Workers (AIW) which is the leading force behind the #DriversUnite movement, drivers aren’t’ necessarily asking to be reclassified – what they want is choice.

Those who choose to remain independent contractors want to be treated as independent contractors, with the ability to set their own rates while continuing to pay a set, fair commission for using the tool. Escobar compares them to electricians or plumbers – professionals who also often use lead-generation services and booking apps to find clients while retaining control over their own fees and work schedule.

Those who choose to become employees want to be treated as employees – Uber and Lyft could retain control over the fares, but should be required to offer things like worker’ compensation in the event of an injury on the job, employee health benefits, and paid time off.

Both groups want a way to appeal a deactivation and a means for addressing grievances with the rideshare companies.

Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor originally from Cadiz, Kentucky. Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.

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