LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Drivers for Uber and other ride-sharing services were celebrating what is believed to be a major legal victory Wednesday over a California labor board ruling that classified one of them as an employee and not an independent contractor.
In a decision filed Tuesday (PDF) with the state Superior Court, the California Labor Commission ruled the Delaware-based Uber Technologies “retained all necessary control” over the operation of its drivers and is thus responsible for all of the protections and benefits the state affords regular workers.
The lawsuit stems from a claim filed last year by driver Barbara Ann Berwick, who claimed Uber owed her unpaid wages and other expenses. Uber has long contended that it is a technological platform used by independent drivers and their passengers to arrange and pay for rides.
While Uber maintained the firm acts as “nothing more than a neutral technological platform”, the Commission found Uber is “involved in every aspect of the operation” from vetting prospective drivers, registering vehicles used by the drivers, and monitoring drivers’ approval ratings.
Commissioners cited a 1990 case of Toyota Motor Sales v. Superior Court, which affirmed that anyone making pizza deliveries “was held to be an employee of the pizzeria, notwithstanding the fact that the deliver person was required to provide his own car and pay for gasoline and insurance.”
In a statement, an Uber spokeswoman said the Labor Commission’s ruling was “non-binding and applies to a single driver.”
“It’s important to remember that the number one reason drivers choose to use Uber is because they have complete flexibility and control. The majority of them can and do choose to earn their living from multiple sources, including other ride sharing companies,” the statement read.
Wilma Liebman, former chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board, told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO that she believes the labor board’s decision to be “well-reasoned” but unlikely to immediately affect customers.
“This is a first step…obviously Uber is going to be very much on top of it as are other drivers,” said Liebman. “But this is one step, it’s got a ways to go even in this one case.”
Earlier this year, two former Lyft drivers and four current Uber drivers filed separate lawsuits alleging that they were misclassified as independent contractors by the companies and thus deprived of California’s minimum wage, reimbursement for work-related expenses, and other protections.
Lyft and Uber disputed the claims and sought summary judgments against the plaintiffs, the Associated Press reported.
CBS2’s Randy Paige spoke to an Uber driver who was thrilled by the ruling.
Tasusung Oh has been an Uber driver for a year-and-a-half. he says he works six days a week, about a 60-hour week.
He said he believed he is an employee — not a contractor — because Uber decides all the elements that impact his job, except for his ability to accept or reject a fare.
“All I can decide is accept the ride from Uber or not,” he says.
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