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Uber argues in court that drivers want independence, flexibility

John Ribeiro | July 10, 2015
Uber Technologies gathered the support of over 400 drivers across California and a law professor to back its argument in court that its platform gives its contractors the flexibility and independence they want.

Uber Technologies gathered the support of over 400 drivers across California and a law professor to back its argument in court that its platform gives its contractors the flexibility and independence they want.

The ride-hailing company faces a proposed class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which aims to show that its drivers are indeed employees under the applicable legal standard, and not independent contractors. A reclassification of drivers as employees could potentially increase the costs for the company in terms of reimbursement of expenses and employee benefits.

In a filing Thursday, Uber said the three complainants failed to establish that their own claims are typical of those that might be asserted by the over 160,000 drivers they seek to represent, as they signed only a handful of the 17 operative service agreements between Uber and drivers in California, and their experiences with the company's app differ considerably from many or most drivers.

"In sum, the putative class consists of more than 160,000 individuals who have little or nothing in common, other than their use of the Uber App in California at some point over the past six years," Uber said in the filing.

Similar disputes to the one between Uber and the three drivers are playing out in court in a number of instances where workers have sued app-based companies that connect users to services, claiming that they are employees and not independent contractors.

The suits all aim to be class actions, according to Shannon Liss-Riordan, who is an attorney in the action against Uber and other companies like Postmates, Shyp, Caviar and Washio. The lawsuits claim that, although classified as independent contractors, the people have to follow detailed requirements imposed on them and are subject to termination.

Shyp recently decided that its couriers would now be considered as employees with benefits, though it said the decision had not been prompted by any legal action filed against the company.

But Uber argued in court that the plaintiffs were taking positions that were contrary to the wishes of the other people they claim to represent, "who do not want to be employees and view Uber as having liberated them from traditional employment."

It said it licenses the Uber app or "lead generation platform" to "partners" who may be third-party businesses that employ or contract with drivers, and individuals that transport riders. "Drivers who use the Uber App may use it as much or as little as they want, and accept as many or as few ride requests as they want, whenever they want," Uber wrote.

In their testimonies, drivers backed the Uber stand, with one person, for example, stating that the arrangement ensured that she would never again have to miss out " on so many of [her] daughter's firsts."

 

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