New York State regulators have determined that two former drivers for Uber are eligible for unemployment benefits and should be treated as employees rather than independent contractors for this purpose, the New York Times reports:
The rulings by the New York State Department of Labor were sent to the two Uber drivers (one also worked for Lyft) in August and September but have not previously been reported. They apply only to their unemployment insurance claims and do not directly affect other drivers or extend to other protections normally accorded employees. But worker advocates say they plan to pressure the state to extend the logic of the unemployment rulings to other areas.
“I think this is a game-changer,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which filed a federal lawsuit with the two drivers in July to force the Labor Department to make a determination in their cases. “Uber has depended on the political structure turning a blind eye. What these decisions do is force a microscopic review” of drivers’ employment status by elected officials and government agencies.
It is not clear how far the advocates will be able to push the ruling. … State regulators recently deemed a third driver who is a member of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance to be a contractor after he filed an unemployment claim. The labor group said it was because of his confusion in filling out the necessary paperwork. It is asking for a hearing and reconsideration of his case to reverse the decision.
Another Uber driver successfully filed for unemployment benefits in California earlier this year.
Uber drivers’ classification as independent contractors is also being challenged in class-action lawsuits in several US states and in a UK employment tribunal. The ridesharing platform maintains that its business model could not survive if its drivers were reclassified as employees, and that drivers would lose the flexibility and independence they value. Uber also insists that it does not manage drivers and thus cannot be considered their employer, though one recent study has suggested the Uber app regulates drivers’ activity to a sufficient extent to constitute “algorithmic management.”