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In brief: Californian Uber drivers have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company for trying to influence their political affairs. The suit was triggered by Uber inundating drivers with messages through its app, urging them to support California's Proposition 22. Plaintiffs are asking for $260 million in penalties.
Proposition 22, also known as the "App-Based Drivers as Contractors and Labor Policies Initiative," will be up for a vote on California's upcoming ballot. If it passes, the state will classify Uber and Lyft drivers as independent contractors. If passed, the proposition would essentially allow the ride-sharing companies to bypass provisions in Assembly Bill 5 enacted last year. AB5 allows Califonia lawmakers to determine whether a given set of gig workers are employees or independent contractors based on specific criteria. Uber supports Prop 22 because a yes vote would keep Uber drivers classified as independent contractors not subject to AB5.
According to the class action filed in San Francisco's Superior Court, Uber has been "illegally exploiting its economic power over its California-based drivers by pressuring them to support the Yes on 22 campaign." The pressure comes by way of popup messages on the Uber app, saying, "Prop 22 is progress," along with warnings about what would happen if it does not pass.
Hey @Uber can you stop sending political push notifications to my phone? We get it - you don’t want to pay your employees a livable wage or give them medical insurance. You’ve made that clear. pic.twitter.com/WT2Dp4lSA8— James (@james_leedom) October 14, 2020
"Almost every time we log on, we are fed more one-sided information to pressure us into supporting Prop 22," said one of the plaintiffs in a press release. "Threatening that most of us will lose our jobs if Prop 22 passes is a scare tactic, pure and simple. It's not right. Uber is constantly asking whether we support Prop 22. They make us feel like we have to say 'yes.'"
Under California Labor Code section 1102, it is illegal for an employer to attempt to "coerce or influence" its employees' political leanings. The exact language of the law states:
"No employer shall coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or influence his employees through or by means of threat of discharge or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity."
Uber denies any wrongdoing, calling the lawsuit "absurd."
"This is an absurd lawsuit, without merit, filed solely for press attention and without regard for the facts," an Uber spokesperson told The Washington Post on Thursday. "It can't distract from the truth: that the vast majority of drivers support Prop 22 and have for months because they know it will improve their lives and protect the way they prefer to work."
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say Uber has resorted to misleading and one-sided "facts" about Prop 22 in addition to the threats against their clients' employment. The filing points to an example where Uber claims that 72 percent of its drivers support Prop 22. Counsel says this statistic is "false and misleading." The lawsuit alleges this inaccurate and biased percentage is a "consequence of the many pressures to conform to Uber's preferred position."
The lawsuit, filed with the Superior Court of California, seeks $260 million in damages, a court order declaring Uber's actions unlawful, and an injunction against further coercion. Lawyers have also filed a separate complaint with the Labor Commissioner seeking civil penalties for labor code violations.
Image credit: Sundry Photography