Uber may shut down its operations in California, one of its largest markets in the US, if it is forced to classify drivers as employees, the company’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said on MSNBC Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Uber and Lyft were ordered by a California superior court judge to classify their drivers as employees. At issue is the classification of ride-hailing drivers as independent contractors, which Uber and Lyft say most drivers prefer because of the flexibility and ability to set their own hours. But labor unions and elected officials contend this deprives them of traditional benefits like health insurance and workers’ compensation. Both companies have said they would appeal the ruling, which was stayed for 10 days.
But if their appeal fails, Uber may have to close up shop in California, Khosrowshahi said. “If the court doesn’t reconsider, then in California, it’s hard to believe we’ll be able to switch our model to full-time employment quickly,” he told MSNBC.
In May, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with city attorneys of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, sued Uber and Lyft, arguing that their drivers were misclassified as independent contractors when they should be employees under the state’s AB5 law that went into effect on January 1st.
Becerra later filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that could compel the ride-hailing companies to classify drivers as employees immediately. AB5, which was signed into law last September, enshrines the so-called “ABC test” to determine if someone is a contractor or an employee.
In his ruling in favor of Becerra’s preliminary injunction, Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman said Uber and Lyft’s arguments — that drivers’ work is outside the companies’ usual course of business — “flies in the face of economic reality and common sense.”
Spokespersons for Uber and Lyft did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Uber also alluded to shutting down its business in California in the motion it filed in court on August 10th. In it, the company states:
Because Uber will almost certainly need to shut down the Rides app while it builds these departments and systems, millions of drivers who use the app to earn vital income will likely lose that opportunity the day the injunction goes into effect—and that source of income will be lost for months, at least.
If drivers were classified as employees, Uber and Lyft would be responsible for paying them minimum wage, overtime compensation, paid rest periods, and reimbursements for the cost of driving for the companies, including personal vehicle mileage. But as independent contractors, drivers receive none of these benefits.
The flurry of lawsuits and court rulings in California comes ahead of the November election, when the state’s voters will decide on an Uber and Lyft-backed ballot measure that would override AB5 by classifying ride-hail drivers and other gig economy workers as independent contractors. The ballot measure is seen as Uber and Lyft’s backstop if the state determines it is violating AB5.