More drivers sue Uber, saying they're employees, not contractors

The drivers allege that under California law they should have been considered employees, not contractors, at least since a 2018 ruling from the California Supreme Court.
Image: Uber protest
Annette Ribero, left, of San Jose, and Jeff Terry, of Sacramento, hold signs during a demonstration outside of Uber headquarters on May 8, 2019, in San Francisco.Eric Risberg / AP

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By David Ingram and Diana Dasrath

A group of current and former Uber drivers are adding to the legal challenges facing the ride-hailing company with another lawsuit disputing their status as independent contractors.

More than 30 current and former drivers were named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco, where a judge is already hearing at least one other proposed class-action lawsuit that threatens to upend the business model of Uber and gig-work companies like it.

The drivers allege that under California law they should have been considered employees, not contractors, at least since a 2018 ruling from the California Supreme Court. That ruling, since written into law by the state’s Legislature, laid out the criteria for determining whether a worker is an employee or a contractor.

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The lawsuit asks for class-action status and says the class may be more than 50,000 people who have worked for Uber since the law was signed, although the size and makeup of any class action must be determined by a judge.

The drivers allege they have little of the independence that would characterize contract work.

“We live in constant uncertainty. Uber controls almost every aspect of our jobs but doesn’t care enough about our lives to give us the basic benefits most employees take for granted,” Christine Tringali, an Uber driver in Los Angeles and one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement released by her lawyers.

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The company has said that it believes it can lawfully continue with a business model in which drivers are not employees, despite the new California law, known as AB5. The company has said it is offering improved benefits, such as sick leave, and implementing a “guaranteed minimum earnings standard,” while also arguing that drivers aren’t “core” to its app-based business.

Uber has faced a series of lawsuits over the years about pay, benefits and the alleged misclassification of workers as contractors. A lawsuit filed in October on behalf of a San Francisco Uber driver also seeks class-action status on behalf of all California drivers.

"These drivers have devoted their efforts to making Uber the powerhouse it is today," said Ronald Zambrano, one of the attorneys who brought the new lawsuit. "If Uber won’t treat its drivers the way they deserve, then the court needs to step in to enforce the law.”

The outcome of the litigation could have far-reaching consequences as other states including New York consider whether to take up legislation similar to the new law in California.

California’s law is also pointing toward changes in other gig-economy sectors besides ride-hailing. Freelance journalists have sued, saying the law threatens their livelihood because they won’t be able to compete with freelancers from other states who can write for online news organizations without restrictions.