Uber should treat drivers as employees, judge rules

A New York State labor judge has ruled that three Uber drivers and their “similarly situated” cabbies should be treated as legal employees of the company. Advocates are calling the decision a major win for workers’ rights.

In her opinion, Judge Michelle Burrowes said she based the decision on the ride-hailing giant’s relationship with drivers.

“Uber did not employ an arms’ length approach to the claimants as would typify an independent contractor agreement,” Burrowes wrote. “Uber took steps to modify the claimants’ behavior, as typical in an employer-employee relationship. Uber published, and made available to claimants, its code of conduct that placed them on notice of what constituted acceptable behaviors and what consequences might attach.”

The decision could mean the three drivers for Uber named in the case, as well as “others similarly situated,” will be entitled to unemployment insurance. Burrowes did not clearly specify what she meant by “similarly situated,” but advocates hope it will apply for all Uber drivers.

The case was brought by Brooklyn Legal Services and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), who are pushing back as Uber attempts to avoid paying costly employee benefits.

“This is an extremely important decision,” said Nicole Salk, attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services, in a statement. “It is the first unemployment insurance benefits decision, after a full hearing, regarding Uber drivers in New York State.”

Uber plans to appeal the decision. The San Fransisco-based company claims it was denied due process and pointed out that New York State’s Department of Labor has determined Uber drivers to be independent contractors on at least six prior occasions.

“We are immediately requesting a new hearing and appealing this decision,” said Alix Anfang, an Uber spokeswoman, in a statement. “We are confident we will prevail — the Department of Labor has already ruled that several drivers are independent contractors and a Federal Court has deemed all black car drivers to be independent contractors.”

The appeal will be taken to a higher level of the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board and could end up in a state appeals court.