Is Uber trying to pull a fast one on its drivers?

Some say new agreement would preclude drivers from taking Uber to court

Uber updated its driver agreements Friday, in a move seen by some as an end-run around a federal class-action lawsuit challenging the ride-hailing company’s labor practices. The updated agreement, which began popping up on drivers’ apps today, would require them to resolve disputes with Uber through binding arbitration, which could preclude them from participating in the class action suit.

Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney representing drivers in the California case, filed an emergency motion to block the new agreements from going into effect, according to BuzzFeed. A spokesperson for Uber said, “We believe strongly that our agreements are valid, but we are making some changes and clarifications to remove uncertainty for drivers and for us as we work through our multiple appeals on this issue.”

At issue is California’s Private Attorney General Act, which allows average citizens to bring claims as a representative of the state. Uber’s arbitration agreement includes both a waiver for class actions as well as a waiver for PAGA actions. Judge Edward Chen, who is overseeing the class-action lawsuit, found that the entire agreement is unenforceable because the subset PAGA waiver is unenforceable, and the two cannot be “severed”. Uber says the new language indicates the PAGA waiver is “severable” from the overall agreement.

An Uber spokesperson confirms that the company does not intend to enforce the new arbitration provisions for drivers who are part of any certified class, like O’Connor vs. Uber.

But drivers are concerned the rideshare company is trying to prevent them from filing future legal challenges. On Friday afternoon, drivers began discussing the news on online forums and on social media, with many saying they plan to opt out from the agreement. “A driver who’s not opted out can’t seek resolution of any dispute in a court of law,” one Uber driver, who posts as chi1cabby on UberPeople.net, tells The Verge. “Not even a small claims court. And obviously [they] can’t join a class action suit as well.”

Chi1cabby says the problem is not every driver participates in online discussions with their peers, and many may choose to agree to the new provisions without knowing what it means for their legal options.

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“Drivers have to agree to the full agreement, including the arbitration provisions, on their phones before they can login to the app and work,” he says. “Most never read the agreement, have no idea about the arbitration provisions. They have to be aware of the provision in order to send an email to opt-out.”

The case before Judge Edward Chen of the US Northern District of California is expected to go to trial in June 2016. The case seeks to reclassify Uber drivers as employees rather than independent contractors. Uber argues that would destroy its business model.

“I SUSPECT MANY WON’T KNOW HOW OR WILL FEAR RETRIBUTION FROM UBER… ”

This week, Chen ruled to expand the scope of damages and participants in the case. Previously the case only covered drivers who didn’t accept arbitration agreements when they first signed up to drive for Uber. On Wednesday, Chen said that would only apply to a “tiny fraction” of California’s 160,000 Uber drivers, and ruled to expand the case to drivers who had agreed to Uber’s arbitration provision.

Many see Uber’s updated driver agreement as a direct response to Chen’s ruling. Meanwhile, the ride-hailing company is lobbying to include language in ride-sharing legislation currently pending in several states to statutorily define drivers as independent contractors.

“I’ve already fielded dozens of requests from drivers who don’t understand what they’re reading or don’t have the time to read through a 21 page PDF,” says Harry Campbell, an Uber driver who blogs as The Rideshare Guy. “I think most drivers probably will want to opt out of the agreement but I suspect many won’t know how or will fear retribution from Uber for doing so, although the latter is illegal.”

 

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