Ride-Hail Drivers File Hundreds of Wage Claims in California

(CN) – When Jose Funes first joined Uber as a driver in 2015, things were flush.

He could start working his neighborhood Woodland Hills outside of Los Angeles and work his way through Marina Del Rey, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Hollywood and take home about $400 a day.

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Those days are over.

The company has steadily whittled what drivers can expect to make, cutting it from about $2.00 a mile in 2015 to about 60 cents per mile currently.

Since Funes is treated as an independent contractor, he is responsible for the depreciation and maintenance of his vehicle. When he got injured a couple of years ago with a pinched sciatic nerve, a common injury among drivers who spend long hours seated in a car, he wasn’t afforded workers’ compensation. Instead, he was uninsured and had to foot the $6,000 bill from repeated visits to the doctor’s office and chiropractors.

Funes took heart at the passage of Assembly Bill 5 in California during the latest legislative session, as it mandates employees such as Funes should be classified as exactly that – employees – and not independent contractors.

“We just want a livable wage,” Funes said.

Funes and more than 130 fellow drivers filed complaints Wednesday at the state Labor Commissioner’s Office in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

“We just want to make sure these criminal employers are following basic labor laws,” said Nicole Moore, an organizer for Rideshare Drivers United, a labor union seeking to procure employee classification for Uber and Lyft drivers in California. “We have drivers who are owed tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages for the last three years.”

Funes estimates if he were paid minimum wage, plus overtime and reimbursed for his mileage as required by California’s labor laws, Uber would owe him about $150,000 for the past three years of service.

“I almost always drive overtime,” he said, adding he needs to drive an average of 12 to 14 hours to make about $170 a day.

But Funes and the others who filed claims represent a minority perspective within the ride-hail industry according to Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for a coalition of groups supporting a ballot measure that if passed would definitively classify ride-hail and mobile app delivery drivers as independent contractors.

“The vast majority of drivers prefer the flexibility and independence of being contractor rather than being an employee,” she said.

The initiative, called the Protect App-Based Rideshare and Delivery Drivers Act, includes provisions such as a minimum wage, a portion of the mileage reimbursement and contributions toward health care, but stops short of listing drivers as employers. It is currently in the signature-gathering phase for placement on the November 2020 ballot.

Fairbanks says more than 34,000 drivers have signed onto the initiative to date, far more representative of drivers than the approximately 130 who filed labor claims Wednesday.

“I have parents who drive while kids are in school, or in between taking care of loved ones,” Fairbanks said, adding flexibility is important to many of the industry participants.

The initiative also has the support of the industry itself, which makes some of those who participated in Wednesday’s labor claim filing rally suspicious.

Eric Dryburgh, an organizer with the union, said classification of drivers as independent contractors simply defies common sense.

“The drivers are not allowed to set their own rates,” he said. “Practically everything is controlled by the company.”

AB 5 was signed into law this past September by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The law has prompted federal lawsuits by the California Trucking Association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association. The organizations say the law is unconstitutional and limits individual rights to pursue work independently for those in the trucking industry and publish several stories for a particular publication in the case of journalists and photographers.

But lawmakers say the law is necessary to protect workers who are being exploited by unscrupulous corporations who place profits before people.

“The Legislature passed AB 5; the governor signed it into law,” said California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-Oceanside, the bill’s author. “Now, workers statewide are asking for immediate relief under the law. The state has an obligation to enforce wage claims against these billion-dollar corporations.”

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