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Attorney in Lawsuit Against Uber Talks Labor Rights

By George Moersdorf-Schulte, Contributing Writer

Speaking to an audience of about 60 at Harvard Law School on Wednesday, the attorney spearheading a major lawsuit against Uber argued that the legal classification of Uber drivers as independent contractors provides the workers with insufficient labor protection.

In August 2013, Shannon Liss-Riordan filed a class-action lawsuit of California Uber drivers against the ride share company, arguing that it classifies drivers as contract workers even though they work like regular employees. The current classification, which Uber claims it adopted because of the time flexibility of the job and its use of personal vehicles, exempts the company from providing labor benefits like minimum wage and health insurance.

Liss-Riordan said Uber drivers cannot be classified as independent contractors because the company evaluates driver performance, claiming the right to deactivate drivers who receive poor customer ratings. She argued that Uber exploits a legal loophole to avoid the provision of adequate labor protection.

“Independent contractors run their own businesses,” she said, adding that Uber drivers cannot be considered self-employed since the business ultimately belongs to Uber.

Liss-Riordan said she wants to give Uber drivers employee status and increase Uber’s share of profits—now set at 20 percent—to pay for the provision of labor benefits. As an alternative, Uber could become a worker-owned business, she added.

Ryan M. Matthew, a Law School student in attendance, said he loves Uber “on the surface,” but that the lawsuit highlights important issues.

Liss-Riordan said the lawsuit’s outcome will affect Uber drivers nationally, even though it is focused in California. She acknowledged that it will take several years for the case to be settled.

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