POLITICS

Drivers Sue Uber Over ‘Barrage’ Of Messages Opposing Labor Protections

Uber, Lyft and others have spent over $185 million on a campaign to exempt them from a California law that would make drivers employees with benefits.

Uber drivers in California are suing the company over the “constant barrage” of messages on the app urging them to vote “Yes on Prop 22,” a measure that, if passed, would exempt Uber from a law requiring drivers to be classified as employees who would be owed benefits, rather than contractors.

The lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Thursday alleges that Uber’s “extensive, repeated messaging” to drivers on the “Yes on Prop 22” campaign constitutes “unlawful pressure” and violates drivers’ rights to not have their employer interfere with their political activity. 

One of the messages that has appeared when drivers logged onto the app, which they need to use for work, said, “Prop 22 is progress” and then had two options for clicking through: “Yes on Prop 22” or “OK” — with no “no” option.

If voters approve Prop 22 in November, it will effectively exempt Uber, Lyft and other major app-based companies from California’s AB5 law, which went into effect earlier this year and requires gig-economy companies to reclassify many of their workers as employees, rather than independent contractors. As employees, the drivers would be entitled to benefits like a minimum wage, health insurance, overtime pay, sick leave and the right to form a union. 

“Almost every time we log on, we are fed more one-sided information to pressure us into supporting Prop 22,” said Ben Valdez, an Uber driver and plaintiff, in a news release.  

The company’s “constant barrage of Prop 22 propaganda on an app the drivers must use to do their work [has] one purpose: to coerce the drivers to support Uber’s political battle to strip them of workplace protections,” said David Lowe, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction from the court to stop Uber from continuing to push these messages to drivers ahead of the election. 

A spokesperson for Uber called the lawsuit “absurd” and “without merit,” saying it was “filed solely for press attention and without regard for the facts.” 

Since AB5’s inception last year, both Uber and Lyft have fought tooth and nail against it, since converting drivers to employees with benefits would come with a hefty price tag. 

Uber, Lyft and other gig economy giants have spent more than $185 million on the campaign to convince voters to pass Prop 22, making it the most expensive ballot initiative in the state’s history.

Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft drivers have repeatedly protested — including a nationwide strike last year — in hopes of getting better pay and benefits.

The lawsuit also accuses the company of threatening drivers with job loss if Prop 22 doesn’t pass.

In August, after a court ruled that Uber and Lyft had to obey AB5 and classify their drivers as employees, the companies threatened to shut down operations in the state

At the time, Gig Workers Rising, a group of ride-hailing drivers and other app-based workers who have been advocating for better working conditions, slammed the shutdown threat as “leaving drivers for dead in the middle of a pandemic, with no safety net.”

Hundreds of thousands of drivers could be affected if Uber and Lyft at some point decide to suspend services. Additionally, millions of passengers rely on the ride-hailing services to get around. 

“Threatening that most of us will lose our jobs if Prop 22 passes is a scare tactic, pure and simple,” Valdez, the driver and plaintiff, said in the news release. “It’s not right.” 

It remains to be seen how Californians will vote on the proposition in November.