FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

An Uber Driver’s Death Shows the Harms of Misclassifying Workers

Photograph Source: Carl Mikoy – CC BY 2.0

In 2015, Waheed Etimad immigrated with his wife and their seven children to the United States from Afghanistan on the special immigrant visa he received after translating for the U.S. Army. Etimad began taking courses at Diablo Valley College, studying to become a computer engineer while driving full time for Uber at night. People who knew Etimad called him a hardworking and devoted family man, an “amazing father, husband, and friend.”

Etimad was killed on February 3, 2019 while on the job for Uber in San Francisco. His van was struck head-on by another car driving the wrong way on Highway 101. While the other driver was also killed, Etimad’s passengers survived the crash.

Since Etimad worked for Uber, a company that categorizes workers as independent contractors rather than employees, his family is ineligible for workers’ compensation death benefits.

Etimad was the sole provider for his wife and seven children, who range in age from two to 16. Had he been classified as an employee, workers’ compensation would have paid for his funeral expenses and provided financial support to his family.

Instead, a friend created a GoFundMe campaign and the Muslim Community Center of the East Bay began organizing legal, financial and emotional support for the family. This outpouring of support is heartwarming — an important way for communities to express grief and solidarity — but workers and their families should not have to rely on public donations if they are hurt or killed on the job. The workers’ compensation system was created for that purpose.

With the proliferation of rideshare services and other on-demand delivery platforms, more workers are driving for a living. Transportation incidents are consistently the most frequent cause of fatal occupational injuries, accounting for 2,077 deaths on the job in 2017 – or 40 percent of all occupational fatalities for the whole year. Given this high risk, it’s particularly egregious for Uber, Lyft, and other “gig economy” companies to misclassify workers as independent contractors and deny them the basic protections of workers’ compensation as well as OSHA coverage.

A 2018 ruling from California’s Supreme Court offered a legal starting point for providing gig workers with those rights. The top court’s landmark decision in Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Court requires employers to pass a simple A-B-C test before classifying workers as independent contractors. All three of the following criteria have to be met in order for a worker to be classified as an independent contractor:

+ They are able to control and direct their own work

+ They are engaged in work that is different than the usual work of the hiring company

+ They are part of an independently established trade or occupation for the work they are providing the hiring company

Independent plumbers are one example of an independent contractor that meets this criteria. The plumber can decide when and how they work, they do work that is different from that of the hiring company, and they are part of an independent trade.

An Uber driver, by contrast, would likely not meet this criteria as their work is controlled by Uber, they are engaging in the primary work of the company (driving), and they do not have independent driving companies.

Members of California’s state legislature now have the opportunity to expand on the Supreme Court’s ruling. State Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez introduced AB 5 this year to codify the Dynamex decision into law. AB 5 has the potential to stop the unraveling of labor protections by gig economy employers.

The Dynamex decision focused on workers that pass the A-B-C test being covered by minimum wage and overtime laws, but AB 5 would extend these rights to include unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, health insurance, sick days, and paid family leave. With the successful passage of AB 5, professional drivers and California workers across industries could reclaim the rights and benefits they deserve.

This piece was originally written for Worksafe’s 2019 Dying at Work Report. 

More articles by:

Yasin Khan is an intersectional public health professional. She has worked with tea farmers and tailors in India, women firefighters and nurses in the U.S. and currently works at UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
Nyla Ali Khan
Spectacles of the Demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh and the Revocation of the Autonomous Status of Kashmir
Stansfield Smith
Celebrating 50 Years of Venceremos Brigade solidarity with the Cuban Revolution
Tim Butterworth
Socialism Made America Great
Nick Licata
Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t
Abel Prieto
Cubanness and Cuban Identity: the Importance of Fernando Ortiz
Robert Koehler
Altruists of the World Unite!
Mel Gurtov
Farewell, John Bolton
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
T.J. Coles
Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?
Joseph Natoli
The Vox Populi
Sasan Fayazmanesh
The Pirates of Gibraltar
John Feffer
Hong Kong and the Future of China
David Rosen
The Likely End to Roe v. Wade?
Ishmael Reed
When You Mess With Creation Myths, the Knives Come Out
Michael Hudson
Break Up the Democratic Party?
Paul Tritschler
What If This is as Good as It Gets?
Jonah Raskin
Uncensored Tony Serra: Consummate Criminal Defense Lawyer
Ryan Gunderson
Here’s to the Last Philosophes, the Frankfurt School
Michael T. Klare
The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!)
Luke O'Neil
I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them
Louis Proyect
The Intellectual Development of Karl Marx
Tom Clifford
How China Sees the World
Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson – Negin Owliaei
Who’s Burning the Amazon?
Yasin Khan
Rideshare Drivers are Employees, Not Contractors
Ralph Nader
Big Business Lies Taught a Watchful Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Sacking of John Bolton
Andrea Maki
Wild Love Preserve Founder: Our Path Forward
Jeremy Kuzmarov
The War in Eastern Ukraine May be Coming to an End But Do Any Americans Care?
Tim Davis – Stan Grier
Protect the Sacred Grizzly Bear, Follow Those Who Know Grandmother Earth
Clark T. Scott
Super-Delegated and Relegated
Jim Britell
Lessons From America’s Greatest Grassroots Campaigns 
Howie Hawkins
Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy
Ramzy Baroud
‘Justice is Indivisible’: Screams of Israa Ghrayeb Should Be Our Wake-up Call
Jill Richardson
It’s Not About Your Straws and Your Light Bulbs
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail