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Uber’s Complicated Employment Picture

Uber has had undeniable success in disrupting not only taxis but the entire economy itself. It is one of the vanguard on-demand firms, built out of mobile Web tech and able to make anything and everything available with a tap or a swipe. Uber is more than a company; it is also a description for a type of company.

However , one of the things that makes the on-demand economy go, so to speak, is its flexible workforce, made up entirely of independent contractors who receive no benefits, pay their own expenses (for cars, fuel, GPS, etc.) and have no ability to avail themselves of the sort of worker protections that full-time employees pay.

But, Uber has countered, as contractors, employees also have flexibility and freedom that they would lack as full-time workers. It asserts that the vast majority of their drivers are both satisfied with their freedoms and the wages they receive in compensation.

However, the ultimate decision about how Uber classifies its drivers seems likely to end up outside of its hands and may instead be in the hands of judges, labor boards and legislators nationwide.

In North Carolina, Uber is facing a class action lawsuit by its drivers alleging that the ride-sharing service owes them for expenses related to driving, including car repairs and gasoline. That case is currently in the North Carolina Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where Uber is seeking a stay in the case after District Court Judge Edward Chen denied a similar request. Last month, Chen allowed the class to be expanded to include as many as 100,000 additional employees who had previously agreed to handle their claims through individual arbitration.

That trial is currently set to begin in Jan. 2016.

Uber also faces challenges in Seattle, where the City Council has voted 8-0 to pass a new law that allows ride-sharing drivers, like Uber’s and Lyft’s, to enter into collective bargaining agreements, i.e., unionize.

Such a law could greatly change how Uber (and Lyft) operate, though it is still a long distance from passage, as it would additionally require votes from more than half of active drivers, appointment of a representative and the overcoming of any legal challenges.

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