Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

New Jersey hits Uber with $650 million bill for back taxes, this week in the war on workers

Share this post

New Jersey says Uber owes $650 million in back taxes and interest for misclassifying workers as independent contractors. This isn’t coming out of nowhere—in 2015, the state notified Uber it owed $54 million in unemployment and disability taxes. Four years later, the number has grown to $523 million in past-due taxes and $119 million in interest and penalties.

No surprise, Uber says it will fight to avoid paying its tab. And the decision that Uber drivers are employees could have major ramifications beyond taxes—refusing to treat its workers as employees is at the heart of Uber’s business model. New Jersey is dealing other blows against that misclassification, including determining former rideshare drivers to have been employees for the purposes of collecting unemployment (one of the taxes Uber hasn’t been paying), and the state Senate is considering legislation cracking down on misclassification. California recently passed such a law, which Uber and other affected companies have said they will spend tens of millions of dollars fighting. A class-action lawsuit against Uber in New Jersey also seeks to escape Uber’s forced arbitration requirement because the drivers in question are involved in interstate commerce.

Uber’s business model is reliant on violating labor law to exploit workers, and, as the New Jersey case shows, it also cheats states of massive amounts of revenue. Increasingly, that model is under challenge in the states. Following the New Jersey demand for back taxes, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s Bhairavi Desai said in a statement, “New Jersey is sending a message that the state’s labor laws aren’t dictated by corporations. It’s time for New York to follow.” It is time, and that would be another major challenge for Uber. At some point, you have to wonder how many big states even a rich company like Uber can afford to keep battling for the right to violate labor laws.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor

Share this post

Uber CEO Forgives Saudi Arabia for a Brutal Murder, But Punishes Drivers for Small Errors

Share this post

Image result for Audrey Winn"In an Axios interview that aired on HBO last Sunday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi made a troubling analogy. Discussing Uber’s ties to Saudi Arabia—whose sovereign fund is one of Uber’s largest shareholders—Khosrowshahi described the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi as a “mistake” comparable to the company’s own “mistakes” in reckless automation. This “mistake” was brushed off casually, with no mention of its place in the context of other Saudi “mistakes,” including an ongoing violent war against Yemen and a long history of brutally silencing domestic critics.

“It’s a serious mistake,” Khosrowshahi said, referring to the order from Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s to kill and dismember Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October of 2018. “We’ve made mistakes too, right, with self-driving, and we stopped driving and we’re recovering from that mistake. I think that people make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven.”

The self-driving “mistake” Khosrowshahi alluded to was the death of pedestrian Elaine Herzberg, who was killed by an Uber self-driving car in 2018. According to documents released by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) last week, there was “a cascade of poor design decisions that led to the car being unable to properly process and respond to Herzberg’s presence as she crossed the roadway with her bicycle.” She was thrown 75 feet in the air by the collision and died on site.

Though Khosrowshahi scrambled to backtrack his statement, his apology seems disingenuous given his previous record of emphasizing the importance of forgiving corporate wrongdoings. In a 2018 interview, Khosrowshahi defended Uber COO Barney Harford, who left the company after allegations of making racial slurs and sexist comments.

“I don’t think that a comment that might have been taken as insensitive and happened to report by large news organizations should mark a person,” Khosrowshahi said. “I don’t think that’s fair. And I’m sure I’ve said things that have been insensitive and you take that as a learning moment. And the question is, does a person want to change, does a person want to improve?”

This attitude reveals a larger issue at Uber—the jarring double standard for forgiving corporate “mistakes” while punishing driver errors, even though corporate leaders have far more power to perpetrate large-scale harm.

Since its inception, Uber has faced a steady stream of public controversies. In 2014, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick joked that the company’s nickname was “Boober” because of the way it boosted employees’ sex appeal. That same year, it was also revealed that Uber’s self-named “God View” could be used to track riders’ locations, including the locations of journalists the company sought to intimidate. From spying on Beyoncé and competitors, to systemically underpaying drivers, to firing over 20 employees who filed sexual harassment claims, the company is quick to seek leniency for itself and drop its “mistakes happen” attitude the moment it turns its attention toward drivers.

In contrast to its internal corporate policies, Uber’s attitude toward drivers is unforgiving. Uber has a militantly single-minded emphasis on high ratings. Given this mindset, it is not surprising that Uber drivers are at risk of getting fired if they maintain a rating below 4.6. This policy remains unchanged, despite the fact that studies have shown that Uber’s rating system allows riders to express biases and evaluate drivers in ways that violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

When drivers are deactivated for low ratings they are told they can rejoin the platform if they complete costly, time-consuming training courses run by Uber’s third-party partners. Many can’t afford these classes already, due to Uber’s dropping wages and vanishing bonuses. Instead of getting training course discounts from the tech giant, however, this requirement remains.

The lack of sympathy is unsurprising given Uber’s history of holding drivers’ poverty against them. Who can forget the now-viral six-minute exchange, where former-CEO Travis Kalanick responded to a driver’s complaints about plummeting rates by telling him that he wasn’t a hard worker—that “some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else.”

Even when drivers have “worked hard” and excelled in their ratings, however, Uber still has ways to punish them. Any number of offenses can lead to deactivation, including, according to Uber, “certain actions [drivers] may take outside of the app, if we determine that those actions threaten the safety of the Uber community, or cause harm to Uber’s brand, reputation, or business.” Though some attempt has been made to clarify these guidelines, confusion remains. Drivers have been allegedly deactivated for a punishing range of issues, including allegedly reporting when passengers called them anti-Muslim slurs and making private Facebook posts.

Uber has a new CEO, but it’s still business as usual. The company’s continued operation is premised on forgiveness for the rich and powerful, and punishment for workers. Khosrowshahi’s statement shows this injustice remains, without any evidence of corporate self-reflection.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on November 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Audrey Winn is a Skadden Fellowship Attorney working and writing in New York City. She is passionate about workers’ rights, algorithmic transparency, and the inclusion of gig workers in the future of the labor movement.

Share this post

Uber admits underpaying New York drivers approximately $45 million

Share this post

Uber’s gotta pay—with interest.

The infamous ride-sharing app admitted Tuesday that it had been underpaying its New York drivers since November 2014 due to an accounting error that took out more than the company’s 25 percent commission, the Wall Street Journal first reported.

Uber typically takes its commission after taxes and fees are deducted from a driver’s fare, but the accounting glitch that took it out beforehand resulted in a larger pay deduction for drivers. Uber’s terms of service did not specify that it took commissions out of gross fare earnings.

To make things right, Uber is repaying an average of $900 per driver with interest, which is estimated to cost a total of at least $45 million. One driver is receiving a $7,000 payout, Recode reported.

“We made a mistake and we are committed to making it right by paying every driver every penny they are owed, plus interest, as quickly as possible,” Uber’s regional manager in the U.S. and Canada, Rachel Holt, said in a statement. “We are working hard to regain driver trust, and that means being transparent, sticking to our word, and making the Uber experience better from end to end.”

Uber has had a rough year with multiple public relations disasters spanning a consumer and driver backlash for the company’s tepid response to the Trump administration’s immigration ban and a sprawling sexual harassment scandal. But the company’s issues with drivers over pay have also persisted.

In January, Uber settled a lawsuit that claimed the company misled drivers regarding earning potential and conditions of the company’s auto financing program. Drivers protested against poor pay throughout 2016, demanding higher pay.

Through it all, Uber has fought drivers on granting employee status and benefits, fair pay, and unionization. But despite the influx of lawsuits, it appears that drivers are going to keep fighting the company on issues.

Following news of Uber’s repayment of New York drivers, the Independent Drivers Guild, which represents more than 50,000 app drivers, called for a widespread investigation into the company’s payment practices.

“Drivers have been complaining about this and other shady accounting tactics to no avail,” said IDG’s executive director Ryan Price in a statement. “Drivers are relieved to be paid the money they are owed plus interest and we hope other companies follow suit.”

“We also call for regulators to launch an immediate investigation into ride hail applications fare and payment practices in our city.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress.org on May 24, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress with an affinity for consumer privacy, cybersecurity, tech culture and the intersection of civil liberties and tech policy. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, she wrote about health care policy and regulation for B2B publications, and had a brief stint at The Seattle Times. Lauren is a native Washingtonian and holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.


Share this post

In Historic Ruling, NLRB Says Tucson Taxi Drivers are Employees

Share this post

afl-cio-logo__140430233329[1]In a groundbreaking ruling, the National Labor Relations Board in Tucson, Ariz., has determined that more than 200 taxi drivers employed by AAA Transportation/Yellow Cab are employees and therefore eligible for union representation.

The ruling is the first of its kind for taxi drivers, following a number of cases in which they were found to be independent contractors, and is in line with new analysis used in the FedEx Home Delivery, Inc. decision that found those drivers qualified as employees. The key clarification in that ruling was a consideration of whether the individuals have an “actual entrepreneurial opportunity for loss or gain” when determining whether they are independent contractors. In both the FedEx and Tucson drivers’ cases, it was determined that the opportunities for loss or gain were not “real or feasible,” and therefore, the drivers couldn’t be classified as independent contractors.

In his Oct. 23 decision, NLRB Regional Director Cornele A. Overstreet found that the employer, AAA Transportation/Yellow Cab, exerts significant control over the drivers in a number of ways, particularly by controlling the majority of business through its dispatch system—a system that the employer can modify at will and which directly affects the drivers’ income.

The case began more than two years ago when representatives of the Tucson Hacks Association petitioned the NLRB, challenging drivers’ status as independent contractors. At that time, the NLRB ruled against the THA. After filing a Request for Review, which the NLRB granted, the drivers sought assistance from the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents more than 4,000 taxi drivers in Las Vegas and San Diego.

“This group of drivers did as much as they could on their own,” said OPEIU International President Michael Goodwin. “Within three months of turning to OPEIU, we’re pleased to see a favorable decision from the NLRB and are now preparing for an election.”

The regional director has ordered an election, which is expected to take place before the end of the year.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO.org on October 30, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.