There are a series of big important lawsuits currently under way, exploring the question of whether or not drivers for ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft are “employees” or “contractors.” It seems fairly obvious that they should be contractors — they use their own equipment, they set their own schedules, they work on their own, etc. However, some are really trying to have them declared as employees, giving them access to things like regular salaries, overtime pay, benefits and such. It would also, most likely, mean many fewer opportunities for drivers, less flexibility and a lot less innovative a service. While the lawsuits are ongoing, down in Florida, the Department of Economic Opportunity has skipped all the judicial nonsense and just declared that Uber drivers are employees, allowing them to sign up for unemployment benefits.
This week, Florida notified Cutler Bay’s Darrin McGillis that he was in fact an employee of Uber while driving for the company earlier this year.
“I’m no longer an independent contractor,” the 46-year-old said while driving in the seven-seat Mitsubishi Outlander he bought to boost his Uber income. He’s now hoping there might be a change to pursue reimbursement on gasoline and even overtime. “All these things come into play.”
Yes, you can understand why some drivers want this kind of designation — but it seems ridiculously short-sighted. It will almost certainly mean fewer opportunities for those drivers and a lot less flexibility. Yes, there are some “on demand” companies that seem to be skirting the rules and having “employees” who they pretend are contractors. But when the participants truly are independent, get to set their own schedule and are using their own equipment, it seems ridiculous to argue that they’re anything but independent contractors.
In this particular case, the guy is upset because he chose to buy an SUV for Uber… and then ran into an issue with a passenger accidentally smashing his door into a scooter. Uber’s insurance covers drivers, and it appears that the company told him to file a claim for reimbursement over the damage — but the guy chose to go after the passenger directly — leading Uber to kick him out of the program. And now he’s pissed off that he bought a big SUV that he no longer needs:
The trouble came during the Ultra Music Festival in March. An Uber passenger opened his Outlander’s door only to have it whacked by a scooter, according to McGillis’ account. An email exchange between him and the company show that Uber urged him to file a claim, but McGillis wanted the passenger’s address to pursue reimbursement. Uber refused, citing privacy concerns.
“I am going to the passenger’s home tonight to get their names since you won’t provide them,” McGillis wrote in a March 30 email to an Uber executive.
By April, Uber had deactivated McGillis’ driver account, freezing him out from potential fares. It also paid for the damages. He filed for unemployment benefits, saying he was wrongly terminated. Uber has until June 9 to appeal the state’s ruling. McGillis said he’s living off of savings and facing a $600 monthly car payment he can’t afford.
“I’m a single guy. I don’t need an SUV,” he said. “Here I am in this big car. What am I supposed to do with it?”
This just sounds like someone who doesn’t want to take responsibility for his own decisions. No one made him buy the SUV. A few months back, on our podcast about what it’s like to drive for Uber & Lyft, we discussed this very issue. Some drivers seem to have unrealistic expectations and are sinking a ton of money into buying new vehicles, without realizing what a massive risk they’re taking. But that doesn’t mean that the liability for that risk should automatically be shifted over to the companies. But, if this ruling stands, that’s how things are moving in Florida, putting a potential damper on important and useful services.