A San Francisco-based driver for ride-hailing service Uber is an employee, according to a ruling by the California Labor Commission. The ruling, made earlier this month and filed Tuesday in state court in San Francisco, goes against the very business model that has made Uber a multibillion-dollar company.
Uber has argued its drivers are independent contractors, not employees. Uber is appealing a labor commissioner award of about $4,000 in expenses to the driver. The California ruling came in response to a claim brought by San Francisco-based driver Barbara Ann Berwick.
An Uber spokesperson told NBC News the labor commission’s ruling is nonbinding and applies to a single driver. "Indeed it is contrary to a previous ruling by the same commission, which concluded in 2012 that the driver 'performed services as an independent contractor, and not as a bona fide employee,' the company said in a statement. "Five other states have also come to the same conclusion."
According to court documents, Product Manager Brian Tolkin argued before the California Labor Commission that Uber is a technology platform, a smartphone app that private vehicle drivers and passengers use to facilitate private transactions. He said that Uber merely provides "administrative support" to the two parties: the passengers and the transportation providers.
But the labor commission concluded that Uber is "involved in every aspect of the operation," including vetting drivers and controlling the tools the drivers use. "In light of the above, Plaintiff was the Defendants' employee," the commission stated. Though the ruling applies only to Berwick's case, if it holds up in courts it could have other Uber drivers clamoring for employee wages and benefits.