Gig News — February 12, 2016

Jon Weinberg

Jon Weinberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

There might be problems with the recent class-action settlement Lyft reached with drivers.  According to Reuters, “U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco issued several written questions about the deal, including some on the key issue of whether drivers for Lyft should be independent workers or employees.”  Judge Chhabria must approve the settlement.  Attorneys for both the drivers and Lyft were asked to provide answers in writing, and a hearing is scheduled for March.

Uber has entered the bicycle-messaging business, and its use of independent contractors has led to further scrutiny of the company’s labor practices.  Crain’s New York Business reports that while Uber classifies its messengers as independent contractors, “traditional courier companies, by contrast, are required to hire messengers as employees and to pay workers’ comp, unemployment insurance and other fees.”  An operator of a courier business featured in the article stresses that the New York State Department of Labor has forbidden the classification of foot and bike messengers as independent contractors.  The operator is working as an Uber messenger in order to document how it treats him as an employee and then bring a complaint.

The attempt to coordinate seven worker classification lawsuits against Uber in a multidistrict litigation has failed.  The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation concluded that “centralization will not serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses or further the just and efficient conduct of the litigation.”  On a related note, Ars Technica summarized some of the several cases being brought using state labor laws by New York-based attorney Paul Napoli.

Do Uber drivers generate profit for the company even when they aren’t transporting passengers?  Motherboard highlights how the data generated by Uber drivers is “immensely valuable” to the company.  Furthermore, “amid a growing recognition that data is an essential component of running a technology business, some drivers and labor advocates are considering drivers’ dead miles as unseen labor, and are wondering if Uber’s data collection constitutes a new kind of wage theft.”

In addition to the lawsuits, the conditions faced by Uber drivers continue to attract media attention.  The New York Post published a story on how in New York “Uber drivers stay behind the wheel up to 19 hours a day to make ends meet, and say the company’s new fare cuts could make things even worse for them — and put passengers at risk.”  Meanwhile, The Guardian reported on the loneliness of Uber drivers and how they use social networks to communicate and seek companionship, as well as plan concerted activity.

Uber drivers may be disrupting the company’s business model, but they didn’t have much impact on the Super Bowl.  According to The San Fancisco Chronicle, “up to 20 Uber drivers tried to block a busy intersection near Levi’s Stadium on Sunday in protest of company policies, but Santa Clara police quickly halted the demonstration, authorities said.”

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