Ride sharing is enjoying growing popularity. Many of these services don’t provide a professional driver, opting instead to function more like a rental car company where the renter drives themselves.
However, the ride share business run by Uber Technologies Inc. is different. The smartphone app based service provides clients with a car and a professional driver. The driver is not an employee of Uber. Instead, they are classified as an independent contractor, and Uber advertises that its drivers are essentially small business owners.
This means that Uber does not cover the cost of insurance, gas and other expenses associated with operation of the vehicles. These bills are taken care of by the drivers. These independent contractors are also obligated to send a portion of any gratuities they receive to Uber.
Shannon Liss-Riordan believes that Uber’s practices are exploitative. In a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts at Suffolk Superior Court, Liss-Riordan alleges that by deliberately classifying drivers as independent contractors, Uber is skirting Massachusetts’ employment laws. The state’s laws regarding employee rights are among the strongest in the nation. Among these laws is one that prevents employers from taking a portion of an employee’s tips.
This is not the first time that Liss-Riordan has taken on a case involving workers whom she believes are being treated unfairly. Past clients include a group of house cleaners and another of Starbucks baristas. The lawsuit against Uber Technologies was filed on behalf of one Massachusetts driver, Hakan Yucesory, but Liss-Riordan believes that all Uber drivers should be involved. A request for class action status was included in the complaint filing.
Uber has yet to comment substantively on the pending litigation. However, they are standing by their business model. Statistics released by the organization cite the creation of “20,000 new driver jobs every month” in the 38 countries in which Uber operates. Uber also says that its drivers in New York can earn $90,000 annually.
Liss-Riordan argues that these earnings do not reflect the expenses the drivers must pay for. It seems likely that this dispute will go to trial.