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New Case Once Again Challenges Uber’s Worker Classification Model
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Summary: A New York worker’s compensation case threatens Uber’s courier classification system.

Although Uber has previously retained the right to keep its drivers classified as independent contractors, it may have that crucial business element threatened again thanks to a pending New York dispute.


Jorge Washington, a courier for Uber’s Rush and Eats delivery service, filed a case in New York against Uber that is being heard by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board. According to Buzzfeed, the fight “could have far-reaching implications for how Uber treats its on-demand workforce — namely, whether the company is legally responsible for people injured on the job.”

Right now, Uber drivers and couriers are classified as independent contractors, not employees. This means they aren’t eligible for benefits such as health insurance or worker’s compensation, and that is what Washington is fighting for with this case.

“Ordinarily, this would be a garden variety workers’ compensation case,” Robert Grey, the attorney representing Washington, said to Buzzfeed. “But Uber is very motivated to avoid a second hearing because the compensation board will decide on his employment status.”

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Washington fractured his finger in July while delivering for Uber Eats. He said he contacted Uber for help, but they did not reply. Since he did not have health insurance, his friend made him a makeshift splint. Washington said that his organization, New York Messengers Alliance, which is backed by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, learned of his injury and helped him file the case.

Washington’s dispute is similar to other lawsuits filed by Uber drivers who demanded to be classified as employees and not independent contractors. The biggest case was a class-action lawsuit filed by attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan. Last year, Uber agreed to settle that suit for $100 million and continue its worker classification system, but a judge denied the settlement. According to Liss-Riordan, the case is pending in the Ninth Circuit appeals court.

Earlier this month, a similar case filed by another lawyer went to arbitration, where Michael Marcus dismissed the plaintiff’s misclassification claims, siding with the billion dollar ride share company.

“Uber does not guarantee its drivers the number of rides they shall be given, does not require a minimum amount of time a driver must be online, allows its drivers to drive for competitors … and does not tell drivers where to drive while they are on the app,” Marcus stated in his decision.

Uber often settles claims against it out of court. It has already offered to settle Washington’s case, but on the condition that Washington terminates his contract with Uber and rejects his claim. This type of settlement would avoid setting a legal precedent and keep his independent contractor status unchallenged.

While Uber’s settlement would have been quick and easy, Washington and his lawyer have already declined the offer. Washington’s attorney Grey stated that the termination of the contract was unfair retaliation, and they want to challenge Uber in front of the Board.

Uber rejected the claim that it had retaliated against Washington, and it stated that because he is an independent contractor, not an employee, he is not eligible for state retaliation laws anyway. Ironically, the issue of his correct classification is at the heart of this case, which will be heard by the state board on February 23.

“This claim — instigated by a taxi medallion-backed organization chasing headlines — is without merit on its face,” Uber told BuzzFeed News. “It fundamentally misunderstands how Uber works and ignores the fact that under the National Labor Relations Act, Mr. Washington can’t engage in union activity.”

UPDATED: 1/26/17 9:45am to correct details about the $100M Uber settlement.

Do you think Uber drivers and carriers should be classified as employees, not independent contractors? Let us know in the comments below. 


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