Cabbies not the only foe Uber faces

Xconomy introduces us to Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Boston lawyer who is leading a court battle against Uber over the way it shares in driver tips and treats them as independent contractors rather than employees.

The company is also facing a lawsuit by Boston medallion owners.

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How

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The company a) is only generating leads for independent divers for which it charges a commission for each lead. b) Each driver owns the vehicle which they operate, and the firm has no insurable interest in said vehicle.

Uber is a middle man, not an employer. This is like your financial adviser suing you saying he's and employee of your "firm". Good luck "Lawyer".

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Not so fast, anon.

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You might be right, but you should keep in mind that, if my memory serves me correctly, Lis-Riordan is the lawyer who won a non-trivial legal battle with the airlines regarding the tipping of skycaps. The skycaps were not employees of the airlines, either.

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She lost that one?

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Are you sure? Was it overturned on appeal?

I realize that the case is not directly on point, but I mentioned it just to make the point that the woman is not a nitwit as the previous commenter implied.

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Not the correct analogy. The

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Not the correct analogy. The equivalent would you suing your financial adviser for malfeasance and his/her company claiming the individual didn't work there but they merely provided him leads on clients. That would not fly under most circumstances.

Under Massachusetts law, there are several elements that dictate whether one is an employee or independent contractor. The default position is that an individual is an employee and burden is on the company to show otherwise. One key element is whether or not the individual is working “outside the usual course of business of the employer." There are some cases on this point, but under a base-level reading of that, it's hard to classify an Uber driver as working outside the usual course of Uber's business, which is providing scheduled rides to people. A case was brought by newspaper delivery drivers and the court found they were employees and not just independent contractors who went where they were told to drop off the papers. Not that different here, imho.

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Disclosure time, "Rob (not verified)"

Please tell the class why you are here and your professional and monitary connections are to the cab industry in Boston.

Don't say "I'm just a concerned citizen", because I doubt the people here (many of whom have had to research alternatives to lousy cab service) are fool enough to buy that.

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What? Zero connections to

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What? Zero connections to the industry. I rarely use cabs. Haven't used Uber yet but plan to next weekend for an event. I'm an attorney and work in a completely unrelated field to any of this. Some other posters know who I actually am so I'll leave it there. Attack dog much? Yikes.

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You don't understand the suspicion?

Let me explain it.

Some of us long-term UHub Asylum inmates get a bit suspicious when a new unregistered person turns up to present lengthy prose on a singular topic.

In other words, we are accustomed to people with very specific interests turning up on day 2 of a discussion with enlightening factual information to share in multiple places in a thread, as if no body here could be aware of that information.

Sorry if you got profiled.

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There are many people like me

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There are many people like me who read this every day and know how things work. I comment on things I care about either out of a personal interest or curiosity. Granted, I should probably go ahead and register a new username. I used to have a username but stopped using it years ago so bringing it back to life now might be a lil weird. I post a lot though as "Rob." You'll see in other threads. Obviously that could be anybody, but I swear it's me. Check the Roslindale playground one from week or two ago, one example, you'll see a user mention he knows me IRL. I read this site all the time, I know who you are (as a poster, no clue who you really are). As an attorney, I actually am really fascinated by Uber and what they are doing and the legal issues around them. I also know a ton of people who use Uber and love it but are not aware of anything beyond "cabs suck, Uber rules" so I wanted to add to this. If you disagree, you're prerogative of course. But I have no personal connection to them or cabs beyond using them once in a while. I could easily ask you if you have any personal or monetary connection to them and would have no clue if you're being truthful or not, but that's the nature of this forum in general.

Viva the internet.

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Thank you Rob not verified

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A couple of years ago when I first started posting out here and before I figured out how to register (simple - but couldn't find the link until Adam pointed it out), someone registered under the unregistered handle I was using and posted a couple of things pretending to be me - things I would never post.

Always better to be registered all you anons - no big deal!

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I used to have username but

I used to have username but just got accustomed to commenting without it through the years. Old habits die hard. This actually gave me a good new username to use ha.

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Rob's actually entirely right

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Rob's actually entirely right. That's the test, and if Uber's not basically in the business of providing cab-like rides, I'm... not sure what business it's in. They may have structured themselves to try and get around that law, and who knows? Maybe they'll win. But the firm involved has made a name for itself going after wage and hour and employee classification issues, and from what I read they're pretty good at what they do. The law exists, essentially, to prevent employers from classifying their employees as independent contractors in order to avoid things like payroll taxes, workers' comp, etc... It's relatively new, I think, maybe within the last decade. But in any case there's no need to accuse Rob of conspiracy. One need not be on the side of the taxis to see that Uber may have a problem.

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well how about....

... a chum from grade school?

(Does anyone actually use the word "chum" anymore -- it was big back in the day -- in the Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew books, at least).

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while I may be anonymous and

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while I may be anonymous and thus attract your ire, Rob's explanation of the law is accurate. Massachusetts generally works hard to classify people as employees, not contractors.

He is quoting pretty much directly from the statutes,

https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXXI/Chapter149/Sec...

an individual performing any service, except as authorized under this chapter, shall be considered to be an employee under those chapters unless:—

(1) the individual is free from control and direction in connection with the performance of the service, both under his contract for the performance of service and in fact; and

(2) the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer; and,

(3) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business of the same nature as that involved in the service performed.

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Sounds reasonable. After all,

Sounds reasonable. After all, it's not like the medallion taxi industry treats its drivers as independent contractors, right? What? Never mind.

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Well, she's a got a long road ahead of her.

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This harkens back to the case fought by the country's largest limousine company, Carey International. In Massachusetts, they used the I/O (independent operator) model with their drivers. Carey provided the car, the insurance and the work. Only the drivers didn't like the fact that they were paying almost 9 grand a year per car for insurance and close to 1500 a month for the car where I pay 5200 a year insurance for two cars. They were also charged an 800 a month "spot fee" which Carey charged their I/O's just to say that they were Carey cars and to use their radios.

The drivers sued and won. Now Carey is an employee only model, no more I/O's. If this lawyer is successful it could change Uber's entire business model and that's something they want to avoid at all costs. One of things that makes Uber successful is also one of it's biggest faults, because they claim the I/O model there is no training or actual supervision of Uber drivers by Uber, so any schmuck with a 2010 or new black car is now a professional driver. That may also come back to bite them in the end. Their only input on the driver comes from the riders, they have no clue what their drivers are doing otherwise. If a driver for one of the real limo companies got caught illegally soliciting, they'd be fired toot suite.

Many of the companies I do work for make me sign agreements stating that I only received work from them and that's it. No training, no supervision, and no real interaction with the company providing me with the work other than when I pick up and drop off. That's how they say that I am not an employee, Uber may also have to go that route with their drivers. But Uber going employee only, I don't see that happening. And while I admire the plucky spirit of this attorney, seeing how both Google and Goldman Sachs have a financial interest in Uber, they may be able to outspend her in the long run.

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Really bizarre...

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...that the Xconomy article fails to mention Liss-Riordan's real Boston claim to fame: representing the immigrant staff vs. Upper Crust for that back pay brouhaha.

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Not all lawyers are unemployed painters

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the Liss-Riordian family has a ton of money. It must be nice to make millions off getting a large group of people the $500 they are owed. I obviously went into the wrong business

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$1 safety fee now tacked on to Uber bill

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Last time I used Uber (a few days ago) there was a charge tacked on that I had not previously seen. It was a $1 fee charged to pay for the work that Uber supposedly does to make sure that the drivers and vehicles are vetted and safe.

The addition of a new fee was annoying. But for the moment the cost of a ride is still lower than via a cab and the vehicle is nicer. Although I wish that the drivers did not play music when I am in the car. I prefer a quiet ride.

Is this a preemptory attempt on the part of Uber to prove that their resources are spent on vetting the independent drivers or might it backfire and show that Uber is treating its drivers as employees?

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No, that's Uber

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charging their customers to do background checks on their own drivers. Every legit limo company I know absorbs that cost,. I mean, it's a little fucked up that Uber makes it passengers pay to check up on the guys who are carrying passengers for them, no? This is also a sort of sideways response to improperly vetted drivers in other cities having records that Uber never bothered to check up on, where legit companies now do CORI checks on all new hires. I also carry general liability insurance on my business, which I am not required to, but is an extra level of protection that the bookers of my celebrity clients insist on, something I'm sure Uber doesn't have.

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Used Uber for the first time the other day

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It was great. Nice, clean, air conditioned, smoke-free Mercedes. I don't know about cheaper than a cab - but in line.

From what you are saying, almost sounds like Uber or Gett or whomever needs two categories of driver - a) the true black car service (which I think it was when it started). Perhaps a bit of a premium for that and you can request it - knowing that a real pro like yourself will show up. Or you can get the "gypsy" service - that may not have all the insurance etc. for a little cheaper - but probably still a decent car.

Or you can call a cab - lately my wife said she went for a cab twice and none were to be found and Uber bailed her out.

I get your concerns, but from my limited customer experience - it's a pretty good service.

I think Ms. Liss-Riordan is going to have a tough time on this one. The ramifications of saying an online booking service makes you an employee are pretty far reaching. Does that mean that if you book on hotels.com, the hotel employees now work for hotels.com? Do people who sell on Ebay work for Ebay? Amazon partner stores? This appears to be a bit of a stretch and unlike the Skycaps, I don't think anyone is complaining.

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From a strictly consumer perspective

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I'm admitting that I am pretty in the dark when it comes to taxi regulations. So from a strictly over-simplified consumer standpoint, many people I have talked to about this issue really don't care about the regulations. Their one and only concern is quality of service. The bottom line is that Uber provides a fast, efficient and most importantly RELIABLE transportation option. If the taxi regulations are preventing the industry from providing the same level of service, maybe the issue is the regulations and not the big, bad Uber.

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