By on October 26, 2020

A small group of drivers are suing Uber over repetitive in-app messages from the company about Proposition 22, a ballot initiative it would very much like them to support. Considering the deluge of political messages you’re undoubtedly getting on your own cellular device, you’re probably sympathetic to their plight. There are few things more annoying than being constantly reminded about an election nobody seems capable of shutting up about — especially when they can’t seem to get your name right.

But Uber likely crossed a line with its employees. While political action campaigns can inundate you with the most obnoxious and misleading election information, your employer isn’t supposed to. These drivers are claiming Uber violated their employment rights by trying to get them to support a ballot measure it has a vested interest in every time they checked their mobile device to hunt for a fare.

We’ve covered the matter extensively but it really comes down to Assembly Bill 5 nuking California’s gig economy. Advocates claim that independent contractors are being taken advantage of and need to be reclassified as employees (with the legal benefits and protections that come with) while decorators suggest AB5 will force employers into a corner and leave the state with far fewer jobs. Frankly, they both seem spot on in their individual assessments of the situation — making a simple solution exceedingly difficult to come by.

Prop 22 exists to grant special exemptions to certain companies running app-based driving/delivery services and is backed by firms like DoorDash, Instacart, Lyft, Postmates, and Uber. In fact, gig economy companies have spent nearly $200 million on a campaign to convince voters that their industry will die without it. Californians have been seeing everything from televised ads to those obnoxious texts. Uber even has an add run on the app whenever customers decide it’s time to hail a ride. However, drivers are said to be getting unique variants of their own, which isn’t supposed to happen.

According to the Washington Post, the suing drivers filed their paperwork in San Francisco Superior Court on Thursday — asking for $260 million in penalties over rights violations. But they’re not exactly unbiased employees just hoping to get a fair shake in an industry that undervalues them. Several of the involved drivers are actively campaigning against Prop 22 and heavily involved in labor organizing.

From the Post story:

Uber’s threats and constant barrage of Prop 22 propaganda on an app the drivers must use to do their work have one purpose: to coerce the drivers to support Uber’s political battle to strip them of workplace protections,” David Lowe, partner at Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe and an attorney for the drivers, said in a statement.

The battle over Proposition 22 has heated up the last few months as Uber and the other gig economy companies have poured nearly $200 million into the ballot measure campaign, making it the most expensive in California history. The campaign has inundated voters with mailers, text messages, phone calls and advertisements. The companies say their businesses will be battered if forced to classify gig workers as employees.

The No on Proposition 22 side, backed by labor groups and unions, has contributed more than $15 million to its campaign. It says drivers deserve to be classified as employees and get benefits, like minimum wage, health care and sick leave.

Claimants are alleging that Uber engaged in illegal political coercion by issuing repeated warnings to drivers about the consequences if Prop 22 fails to pass this November. Those included everything from positive messaging about Prop 22 to reminders that the ride-hailing giant might have to abandon the entire state. For a time, Uber was even issuing messages that effectively forced drivers to voice some form of approval of the ballot measure before they could close out of the app. Uber has since explained that it has removed most of those messages but did not deny that drivers are still seeing messaging requesting they vote yes on Prop 22.

“This is an absurd lawsuit, without merit, filed solely for press attention and without regard for the facts,” Uber spokesman Noah Edwardsen said. “It can’t distract from the truth: that the vast majority of drivers support Prop 22 and have for months because they know it will improve their lives and protect the way they prefer to work.”

Uber has maintained that the vast majority of drivers (nearly 75 percent) will vote to support Prop 22. But the lawsuit has claimed this is a false statistic or the direct result of it having coerced employees. It also claims that the company monitored survey results and gave preferential treatment to the drivers that most vocally supported the ballot measure. Drivers are seeking a fairly massive payout (most of which would go to the government with workers receiving a smaller slice) and for Uber to immediately halt using its driver-scheduling app for political messaging.

Uber isn’t the only company getting into trouble for this type of stuff either. Last week, Instacart asked workers to place pro-Proposition 22 stickers in customers’ orders at at least one location and DoorDash has been providing free pro-Proposition 22 food delivery bags that workers are obligated to carry to customers.

Since the Supreme Court opted to protected the speech of corporations as if they were people in 2010 (derp), companies have had a lot more leeway to try and push staff to support their own political goals. But all of the above may be in violation of the First Amendment and almost certainly skirts a few state-based labor laws designed to keep firms from mobilizing employees for political gain.

[Image: Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock]

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13 Comments on “Uber Drivers Sue, Claim Company Pressured Them to Support Prop 22...”

  • avatar

    With a hundred thousand Tesla robotaxis scheduled to begin operation in California on Jan 1, Uber is likely a dead man walking anyway, right?

    • 0 avatar

      You mean my Tesla will be called into duty without my permission? Will I have to leave my garage door open all the time?

      • 0 avatar

        Yes and yes, did you miss that part in the fine print of the contract?/s

      • 0 avatar

        “The company plans to enable every Tesla vehicle built since October 2016, all of which have been fitted with a suite of cameras and sensors, to upgrade its software and computer to support point-to-point autonomous driving with no human taking over. This, in turn, will enable the car to offer rides to members of the public autonomously – all without requiring a human driver.”


  • avatar

    A) I do not live in California. I live over 2000 miles away on the other side of the country.

    B) I do not use UBER or LYFT in any manner; I used a licensed and certified taxi service when I do need to hire transportation.

    C) When not using my personal vehicle (and sometimes even when taking it along) I use commercial and/or metropolitan services that list its operators and drivers as company employees and NOT as “independent contractors.”

    I think this offers a clear enough idea of my opinion of Prop 22.

  • avatar

    Prop 22 is an imperfect response to a deeply flawed bill (AB5).

    CA lawmakers laid the foundation for this fight because they only answer to labor unions and land developers in the Golden State. For all the virtue signaling and wokeness they espouse, CA Dems behave like Republicans – disinterested in what you have to say unless you’re saying it with a check or better yet, green cash.

    Regardless of how you feel about Prop 22, it came about as a result of money (from labor unions in this case) distorting voter will.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you’re describing pols everywhere.

    • 0 avatar

      @jkross22: Consider this:

      roughly 30 years ago, I worked as a repair technician in a TV/Stereo repair shop. I was hired as an employee and had taxes taken out of my paycheck for IRS purposes. Then, suddenly, the owner of the shop stopped taking taxes out on all his employees’ paychecks without changing the amount we were receiving or explaining why. Moreover, shortly afterwards, the owner brought in a well-known insurance company to sell us “supplemental” health insurance, without explaining that it was intended to cover what he’d supposedly been paying for our health policy though the shop. It wasn’t until it came time to file for IRS the following spring that he told us we were listed as “independent contractors” and responsible for our own taxes and fees (effectively cutting our wages nearly in half at the time and putting us all, at possibly the worst possible moment, thousands of dollars in debt if we needed to take a loan or something to pay the taxes due.

      To say the least, every technician reported the owner for tax evasion and quit. On following up, it turned out that said owner’s tax evasion was far more extensive than we believed and within months the shop was padlocked by the IRS.

      Prop 22 is clearly an attempt by these companies to avoid paying the taxes they are required to pay for employees, Federal, state and local, and screw said drivers over at far below even the current minimum wage laws. While I don’t believe my former boss is part of any one of these companies, I wouldn’t put it beyond him if he were.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure that’s entirely true.

      Sure, yes the lawmakers are supporting a union stance. But it’s also because that’s a stance the lawmakers themselves believe in. If not, they’d be taking money from and supporting Uber instead.

      The simple truth is that, as the article suggested, this is a complex problem that requires a complex compromise solution. But neither side seems willing to compromise at this point. The lawmakers at least partially because they are pissed off at Uber, and Uber through what appears to be institutional arrogance.

      I suspect that, at the end of the day a compromise will be reached that provides protections and benefits necessary to employees without locking the employer into a too-rigid contract with what are supposed to be temporary and flexible work situations.

  • avatar

    I do not care about what they decide. If Uber becomes unaffordable I am not using it. But even then Uber is much better than taxi, at any price.

  • avatar

    I feel bad for Uber drivers…they are at the mercy of an algorithm, which will always seek the lowest reimbursement to them….treating them as employees (which they are) is fair, but the whole Uber business model is cheating…ignore local regulations….ignore taxi licensing….push all the costs on the driver, including acquisiton. Screwing the employees isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Is anyone surprised anti-prop propaganda is pushed on this app ?

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Uber often ‘set up’ in cities with a disregard for existing rules, or regulations regarding their operational requirements, insurance requirements, licensing requirements and employment laws.

      Other ‘app’ services followed suit.

      Sometimes when the courts found against these ‘app/technology providers’ they closed shop and moved out. For example Foodora pulling out of Canada.

      The misclassification of workers is a common occurrence. Employers use this ‘dodge’ to avoid paying in Ontario required contributions to employment insurance, canada pension plan, employers health tax, and workers compensation premiums, plus any overtime, paid public holidays or vacation pay. If the worker is deemed to be an ‘independent contractor’ then they also do not receive termination or severance pay. All adding up to a very tidy sum for the ’employer’.

      Unfortunately for the workers not only do they often find themselves unable to collect E.I. when they are out of work, unable to collect WSIB if injured on the job, and with a reduced pension when they ‘retire’. They also have to make ‘lump sum’ tax payments as their employer is not making tax contributions on their behalf.

  • avatar

    Since the driver decides which fare to take they are more akin to a PRN position than a full time employee. For them to be independent contractors they should be able to “negotiate” the percent they receive of each fare. I don’t care for Uber and have never used them for anything, but in this case I do not see the drivers as regular full time employees.

    That said, Uber does everything in its power to cheat everyone.

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