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Uber's Trouble In New York City Won't End With Drivers Guild

One month after Uber agreed to work with a drivers association, another driver group has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against it.

[Photo: Flickr user abstrkt.ch]

On Thursday, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) and 10 Uber drivers filed a lawsuit against Uber in a federal court that alleges the company cheated workers by classifying them as independent contractors. Driver plaintiffs in the proposed class action lawsuit say that some weeks they worked more than 40 hours without overtime pay and earned less than the minimum wage, both of which would be illegal if they had been classified as employees.

"After working for Uber continuously for years, laboring for twelve-hour shifts, for six or seven days a week, these workers simply cannot be considered independent contractors performing a 'gig,'" the lawsuit says. In addition, it alleges that Uber breached its contract with drivers by changing the vehicle standards for participating in Uber's black car business, leading some drivers to buy more expensive cars than ultimately necessary for the job.

The NYTWA, which represents 19,000 drivers—5,000 of them Uber drivers—filed a separate suit with the National Labor Relations Board that argues Uber's contract with drivers, which bans them from bringing class-action lawsuits, is also illegal.

A spokesperson for Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Uber's latest lawsuit highlights not only its pervasive legal challenge, but also the divide among organized labor groups to organize workers for the company. Some groups, like the NYTWA, have argued that these workers should be classified as employees, and therefore entitled to the same protections. Others have worked to organize drivers as independent contractors.

In May, Uber reached an agreement with another New York drivers group, the Independent Drivers Guild, which is affiliated with a regional branch of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, in which it promised monthly meetings with management, access to discounted benefits, and an option to appeal the company's decision to boot a driver from the app. The machinists union said that throughout the five-year agreement, it would not try to unionize drivers or have them recognized as employees rather than independent contractors.

The NYTWA, which had also been working to organize Uber drivers, criticized the deal. Now, it has put a lawsuit behind those criticisms. "I assure you: This will be Uber’s most formidable legal challenge," said Bhairavi Desai, president of the National Taxi Workers Alliance, at a press conference.

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