The California chief prosecutor has taken his most aggressive step thus far in trying to force Uber and other work economy companies to treat their workers as employees.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, backed by attorneys for the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, filed a request for a preliminary injunction in his lawsuit against the concert companies on Wednesday.
If granted, it would mean that companies must reclassify their workers in a matter of weeks.
The motion will be discussed at a hearing that will take place on August 6.
The request came when about 50 Uber drivers in San Francisco blocked the street outside the home of company CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, demanding employee benefits and better provisions for protective gear during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have a 90-year-old mother and a wife who has cancer,” said Vernon, a 73-year-old driver, who attended the protest. “I need money.”
Drivers said the impact of Covid-19 had pushed them to the financial edge, unable to meet rental or mortgage obligations. Organizers said Mr. Khosrowshahi’s recent promises to support the Black Lives Matters movement were false, since many of the company’s drivers, many of them of minority background, were not being treated “with dignity and respect.”
“I have come here to protest an injustice,” said Alex, 56. “This company has become extremely rich in the hands of the workers.”
The dramatic drop in ridesharing due to coronavirus blockades has brought the issue of concert worker rights to the forefront of California politics, where most of the larger companies are located.
A new law, California Assembly Bill 5, or AB5, went into effect earlier this year. It codified a Supreme Court ruling that establishes criteria for treating workers as employees rather than independent contractors. The law is now being used to bring concert economy companies to court.
Uber warned that a court order would immediately lay off more than 150,000 of its California drivers, and lead to price increases of between 25 percent and 111 percent, with less densely populated areas more affected.
“The vast majority of drivers want to work independently,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We have already made significant changes to our application to ensure that it continues to be so under California law. When more than 3 million Californians are out of work, our elected leaders should focus on creating jobs, not trying to shut down an entire industry. ”
Lyft, Uber’s biggest competitor in the United States, said: “If the courts accepted the attorney general’s request, it would have a devastating effect on millions of Californians at the worst possible time.”
He added: “We believe the courts should let voters decide.”
Uber, Lyft and a handful of similar companies have thrown more than $ 100 million behind a proposal for a new voting measure, to be voted on in November, that would effectively exempt workers from AB5 application-based services. The coalition maintains that its alternative measure would provide workers with some protections, such as a minimum income level.