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Rideshare Drivers are Employees, Not Contractors

In 2015, Waheed Etimad immigrated with his wife and their children to the United States from Afghanistan, where he’d been a translator 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 earlier this year while driving for Uber in San Francisco.

Ordinarily, when these workplace tragedies occur, an employee’s family is entitled to compensation. But since Etimad worked for Uber, a company that categorizes workers as “independent contractors” rather than “employees,” his family is ineligible.

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 had to create a GoFundMe campaign, while the Muslim Community Center of the East Bay began organizing legal, financial, and emotional support for the family.

This outpouring of support is heartwarming. But workers and their families shouldn’t have to rely on charity if they’re 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 — 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 contractors and deny them basic workplace protections and workers compensation.

A 2018 ruling from California’s Supreme Court offered a legal starting point for providing gig workers with those rights. The landmark Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Court decision requires employers to pass a simple A-B-C test before classifying workers as independent contractors.

A) They are able to control and direct their own work. B) Their work is different from the usual work of the hiring company. C) They’re part of an independently established trade or occupation for the work they’re providing.

Plumbers, for example, could meet these criteria. The plumber can decide when and how they work, they work at businesses that don’t make their money by plumbing, and they’re part of an independent plumbing trade.

An Uber driver, by contrast, would likely not meet these criteria. 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.

In a huge development, California lawmakers just passed an important measure to codify the Dynamex decision into law. That 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 the new law will extend these rights to include unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, health insurance, sick days, and paid family leave.

The bill could also be a model for the rest of the country. All across America, workers in one of the most dangerous industries — and all others who are misclassified as contractors — should reclaim the rights and benefits they deserve.

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.

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