A state unemployment insurance appeal board has affirmed that three Uber drivers were indeed employees, and therefore eligible for unemployment insurance. The initial ruling was made last year in the drivers’ favor by an administrative judge. That ruling, which Uber immediately appealed, upheld a state Department of Labor determination that the drivers were employees, not independent contractors.

Uber has held firm to its independent contractor business model, engaging in court battles for years to keep its drivers from being classified as employees, which would entitle them to wage and other protections. The appeal board, which issued its ruling on July 12, found that the “record, as a whole, demonstrates that the claimants and other similarly situated drivers were covered employees for purposes of unemployment insurance.”

The appeal board decision included a rejection of Uber’s May request to withdraw its appeal. At that time, Uber claimed that it saw no reason to pursue the case because it would only apply to three drivers.

The appeal board looked at a wide range of company practices, including requirements regarding driver training, discipline and even the manner in which they accelerate and brake, in determining that Uber exerted the kind of control over its drivers that contributed to their classification as employees.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), which has been involved in the suit from the outset, hailed the ruling as a victory that will extend not just to the plaintiffs but to other “similarly situated drivers.” While that clause is “not defined in the decision,” according to NYTWA staff attorney Zubin Soleimany, based on the specifics of the case, “it looks like this would have a broad application to most Uber drivers.”

In addition, while the original Department of Labor determination only applies to the issue of unemployment insurance, it could still have a wider impact.

“It could have persuasive effect in other courts and before other agencies determining employee status for other purposes, such as minimum wage laws,” Soleimany added.

A recent study examining app-based company driver wages, commissioned by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, found that 85% were earning less than the $15 minimum hourly wage once expenses were counted.

Uber says the appeal board ruling will have a limited effect.

“We disagree with this ruling and we are reviewing our options,” an Uber spokeswoman said. “We are confident that the ruling uniquely applies to the three claimants because many of the practices cited in the opinion never applied to one or more of the claimants, are no longer in place, or never existed at all.”

Source: Crain’s New York Business

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