Barbara Ann Berwick delivered a potentially huge blow to Uber when she was declared an employee, not an independent contractor, by the California Labour Commission in June.
She was awarded more than $US4,000 for her employee expenses from the ride-hailing company.
Now, she wants to teach other drivers how to do the same.
Berwick’s Rideshare School launched Tuesday and promises to teach “drivers from ridesharing services how to enforce their rights as employees and reclaim funds for driving expenses, overtime, and more.”
Berwick will charge $US50 for the three-hour class, and will hold it twice a week at her home in San Francisco.
Winning your case, Berwick said, is much harder than showing up. And since her case was a win at the labour commission level, the result only applies to Berwick.
“You can’t say I drove ‘I’m an employee, pay me’. The fact that I won my case at the EDD does not set a precedent,” Berwick said.
For one thing, if drivers are working for multiple companies at the same time, “your litigation will definitely fail” Berwick said. The drivers may be able to claim for mileage or other specific items, but won’t be able to claim expenses or overtime because there’s no way to easily split the items.
That’s just one pitfall some drivers may face going against ride-hailing companies.
Berwick offered another example: Suppose the commissioner asks if your job is time-based or project-based. A driver could respond that it’s project-based because they are picking up each passenger to complete a task, or they could say it’s time-based because they are responsible for getting the person there in the shortest amount of time — a stop for lunch along the way would mean a low rating and potentially getting fired, Berwick explained.
The correct answer for purposes of getting classified as an employee is time-based: that’s one characteristic of employment. Projects signal more of a contractor status, Berwick said.
There are also complexities surrounding the paperwork you need to provide and try to get submitted as evidence.
“You have to know what to argue,” Berwick said. “If you get careless, you can make a point that strikes the other sides’ argument.”
Berwick won, she said, because she’s a “seasoned litigator.” A search for her name returns 26 cases in San Francisco courts alone, and she can recite the address of the labour commission off the top of her head.
Uber is now appealing the labour commission’s decision, and Berwick will be facing a court date in October. Until then, she hopes she’ll be teaching other drivers how to come out ahead in face of the teams of lawyers for the ride-sharing companies.
“They will win,” Berwick said of Uber and Lyft. “An unprepared litigant will lose.”
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