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A Drivers’ Union for Uber?: What the Uber Settlement Means for Workers’ Compensation Rights

As driving applications like Uber and Lyft gain popularity, so do pressing legal questions about their drivers and passengers. Increasingly, Denver workers’ compensation lawyers and Greeley workers’ compensation attorneys find that professionals have multiple jobs. With the certification process for Uber being so intuitive, many people find themselves ferrying intoxicated passengers as a weekend or extra-part-time job. As previous blog posts have noted, Uber and Lyft drivers have had multiple injuries on the job. Uber drivers have to worry about everything from run-of-the-mill car accidents to full-on assault by passengers, as some drivers in California have noted.

Workers’ compensation lawyers in Denver don’t necessarily have automatic clients in Uber drivers, however. Since the company classifies its drivers as independent contractors, Uber and Lyft drivers aren’t immediately able to claim workers’ compensation benefits for injuries they sustain on the job.

Just last week, however, Uber announced it was settling two huge class-action lawsuits Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts brought against the company. The drivers argued, among other things, that Uber was misclassifying the drivers as independent contractors. An independent contractor, for example, brings his or her own equipment to a job site and may choose which jobs to take and which to leave. Uber drivers and their lawyers argued that Uber is clearly an employer since the driver app notifies drivers about potential fares and drivers generally can’t pick and choose their clients. This key difference makes Uber significantly different from a taxi service.

As part of the agreement in the class action lawsuit, Uber will continue its habit of classifying its drivers as independent contractors, which means drivers still won’t get unemployment or workers’ compensation insurance. However, the drivers did receive a settlement as part of the agreement–$100 million in total. Also, Uber will allow drivers to accept tips from their passengers and the deactivation policy will become less strict. These changes seem to push Uber more toward a taxi cab model.

The most significant step this settlement takes in changing the way Uber works, however, is the formation of a new drivers’ association for Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts. This association is a little like a union, in that it takes the first step toward allowing collective action between Uber drivers to advocate for their interests from the company.

The association is different from a traditional labor union because it will not grant rights to capacity or collective bargaining from Uber. But drivers will elect representatives for the association and meet with Uber four times per year to address drivers’ issues. Uber will also fund the association, which raises questions about how objective and useful it will actually be from an objective perspective. After all, if Uber is footing the bill, wouldn’t a union with teeth be against its own interests?

Additionally, if the union gains real power to affect a difference in drivers’ work, there might be some legal issues. If the association is more like a suggestion box, it probably wouldn’t face any major challenges from the National Labor Relations Board. However, if the association begins to look more like a union, the National Labor Relations Board might conclude that the association is a union controlled by the company, and that has been illegal since the Great Depression.

If Uber really wanted the drivers’ association to have the power to make changes to drivers’ workplaces and put into effect drivers’ suggestions, the best route would probably be to allow an outside union to help the drivers. However, any kind of driver organization for what are ostensibly independent contractors would probably run against Uber’s interests as a company.

Either way, with the settlement of the class action suits against Uber, the drivers that work for the company will probably not be considered anything other than independent contractors for a long time. This means workers’ compensation for Uber drivers, unfortunately, remains a highly-contested topic.

Workers’ Compensation can be difficult, confusing, and very complex. Kaplan Morrell has helped thousands of injured workers since 1997 get the benefits they deserve. Contact us here or call us at 303-780-7329 for your free consultation.