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Uber Drivers Win Unemployment Eligibility in New York

Illustration for article titled Uber Drivers Win Unemployment Eligibility in New York
Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty)

The New York State labor review board has found that three Uber drivers and “other similarly situated drivers” qualify as employees for the purposes of applying for unemployment. The ruling, which the New York Taxi Workers Alliance hailed as a “historic victory,” came down last Friday and was first reported yesterday by Politico.

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This represents another decision for workers engaged in the “gig economy,” where employers attempt to position themselves as platforms to avoid paying for things like healthcare, benefits, overtimes wages, or providing meal breaks. While not as forceful, the labor review board finding follows a landmark decision by the California Supreme Court in May where delivery contractors working for Dynamex were found to qualify as employees.

This turn of events in New York gives some security to the massive ridesharing workforce, which Uber reserves the right to deactivate (see: fire) at any time. It also may provide precedent for drivers to pursue full employee recognition from a company that, a recent TLC-commissions report contends, would represent “the largest for-profit private employer in New York City” if its drivers weren’t classified as contractors.

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Still, a pall is cast over these state-level victories as an increasingly conservative, pro-business Supreme Court erodes labor rights, like the ability for Uber drivers to pursue class-action suits.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment and will update when we hear back.

[Politico]

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bgmwrites@gmail.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

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DISCUSSION

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I’m not a fan of Uber’s ethics or business model, but I don’t think it’s fair calling Uber drivers either independent contractors or employees.

When I was doing statistical work as an independent contractor on the side, I’d be given data and a research question, and I’d work out compensation with whoever hired me: Sometimes, I’d take a flat fee, sometimes, I’d take an hourly rate, sometimes I’d quote a price for a given amount of analysis ($X gets you this many tables and this many pages of writing), sometimes it’d be a combination, but I got to choose (or choose not to work with someone if I decided not to).

Uber drivers have significantly less autonomy than that (they can’t choose their own rates, for one), but at the same time, they’ve got way more autonomy than an employee does: An Uber driver can decide to drive on a whim on a Friday night, and then promptly decide to quit driving when they get a text from their friend, as soon as they drop the rider off. They can then decide they don’t want to drive for a week and a half. No job will let you do that.

So there needs to be a new model to handle these kinds of situations, and that needs to be written for things including employment and health insurance, taxes, etc. (Or we could develop a rigorous social safety net with a guaranteed minimum income, which would really reduce the need for unemployment insurance, and universal healthcare, which would eliminate the need for employers to provide for healthcare.)