Scheiber on Uber Drivers: More (and more) Evidence of Employee Status


Published February 3rd, 2016 - 02.03.1633


As Sophie covered in the News and Commentary today, Noam Scheiber has a superb piece up at the NYT on mounting dissatisfaction among, and protest by, workers in the gig economy.  The article is rich with interviews of gig workers, including Uber drivers.  And it provides more and more evidence of what has seemed fairly clear for some time now: Uber drivers are employees within the meaning of existing labor and employment law. Here are some relevant excerpts:

Last September, Dallas-area drivers for UberBlack, the company’s high-end car service, received an email informing them that they would be expected to start picking up passengers on UberX, its low-cost option.

Employers tell their employees what work they have to do, the kind of customers they have to transport, and what they can charge.  Independent contractors make those decisions for themselves.  If drivers were independent contractors they would be able to make a business judgment about whether they wanted to pick up passengers on UberX.  No such independence exists for Uber drivers.

“We started realizing we’re not contractors, we’re more like employees,” said Berhane Alemayoh, one of the UberBlack drivers in Dallas. “They tell us what kind of car to drive. They kick you out if a customer accused you of not having a clean car.

More evidence of control.  According to this driver, Uber is imposing control over the type of cars drivers can use and – presumably through customer reviews – imposing cleanliness standards.  This is completely legitimate and expectable conduct for an employer.  But it is inconsistent with the claim that drivers are independent.

Unlike sellers on eBay or Etsy, Uber drivers cannot set the prices they charge. They are also constrained by the all-important rating system — maintain an average of around 4.6 out of 5 stars from customers in many cities or risk being deactivated — to behave a certain way, like not marketing other businesses to passengers.

Rate setting is done by Uber.  Control is exercised through the star rating system. Discharge decisions are made by Uber, according to standards determined by Uber.  We’ve covered this before, and noted why all these factors suggest employee status.

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