It’s been more than a year since San Francisco Uber driver Lucas Chamberlain was knocked unconscious by a would-be customer who attacked him during an argument over whether or not the patron was old enough to ride solo.
“I woke up with blood coming down under my eye,” Chamberlain told CNN Business. “I was like, ‘Why are there rocks in my mouth?’ It was my broken teeth.”
The March 15, 2020 attack temporarily put Chamberlain in the hospital, which only made his problems worse. He says he is one of many Uber drivers who do not receive health care benefits from the company even though they spend more than 40 hours a week working for Uber.
Situations like this are among the reasons some California Uber and Lyft drivers are calling on the National Labor Relations Board to classify them as employees once again.
Rideshare drivers from the organization We Drive Progress and delivery couriers with the Mobile Worker Alliance publicly stated their NLRB grievances during a Tuesday afternoon Zoom press conference. The groups say their total membership includes about 24,000 gig workers.
Representatives from both groups said they want the NLRB to reconsider ruling on a gig worker complaint filed after the November passage of Proposition 22, a California ballot initiative that allowed gig companies like Uber to classify their drivers and couriers as independent contractors rather than employees.
Prop 22 created an exception to California’s AB-5, a law passed in 2019 that granted gig workers all the rights and privileges associated with full-time employee status, including paid time off, paid sick leave, mandatory health care benefits for individuals working 40+ hours a week and the right to collectively bargain.
Uber and the other gig companies fought hard against AB-5, launching a $185 million ad campaign that convinced a majority of California voters that most ride-share drivers and couriers preferred the flexibility of being independent contractors, citing multiple polls ans studies on the issue.
In May, a Benson Strategy Group survey showed 82% of Uber drivers are still happy with Prop 22. The same survey found 51% of drivers remained “very happy” with the ballot measure.
“What California has shown is that the issue of independent work doesn’t follow the ideological lines,” Uber said. “Some political leaders are out of touch with what drivers and voters actually support.”
But the aggrieved drivers say Uber, Lyft and other gig companies haven’t kept the promises they made to voters when they campaigned for Prop 22.
“Those things that drivers rely on to ensure a good pay and a livable wage, they’re keeping that from us,” Lyft driver Jerome Gage told reporters Tuesday.
The drivers said the gig companies’ list of promises included providing a health care stipend to qualifying drivers and couriers who don’t already have medical coverage provided by the government or another employer.
Tulchin Research determined in April that roughly 86% of surveyed California gig workers are ineligible for the healthcare stipend.
Uber also added a fare multiplier feature to its app during the Prop 22 campaign after drivers complained about reduced fare prices cutting into their profits. Uber told drivers the fare multiplier would give them greater control as independent contractors by allowing them to set their own prices for trips “as a multiple of time and distance rates,” but the company abandoned the feature after customers pushed back earlier this year.
“Over the last few months, 80% of riders matched with a driver with a fare multiplier above 1x declined the higher fare and did not re-request a ride on Uber,” the company said in an April 8 blog post. “Additionally, drivers who set a high multiplier received fewer trip requests.”
Chamberlain said the broken promises cemented his view that being a gig employee is better than remaining independent.
“If I was an employee, I would have workers’ comp, insurance,” he said. “Because I don’t have that, I’m stuck with broken teeth. And I didn’t get paid for time off.”
The National Labor Relations Board said Tuesday that it isn’t aware of any California rideshare drivers or couriers filing a specific complaint against Uber, Lyft or any other major gig app company.
An NLRB spokesperson noted that under the Trump administration, the board previously determined the it doesn’t have jurisdiction over the gig workers because they are considered independent contractors and not employees, but that could change once a new complaint is filed under President Joe Biden’s NLRB.
Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center at Institute for Research on Labor Employment, says it’s “fairly likely” Biden’s NLRB will eventually weigh in on the gig workers’ battle with companies like Uber.
“It’s hard to read where they’d come down, but I would not be surprised if they reversed it,” he told CNN Business.
Celine McNicholas, director of government affairs and labor counsel at the Economic Policy Institute, says the Trump-era NLRB ruling effectively denied Uber drivers and other gig workers the collective bargaining rights granted by the National Labor Relations Act.
“We hope the NLRB will correct this error and ensure that these workers have the right to a union,” she said.