Uber says its drivers should enjoy the freedom that comes with setting their own hours, as long as that freedom ends at the courthouse steps. As its California drivers battle to be treated as employees with benefits—rather than independent contractors—the world's most valuable startup is arguing they can't go to trial. According to the contracts most drivers signed, Uber says, disputes have to go through private arbitration.
The company's position has taken on greater importance since a Sept. 1 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco. Chen granted class-action status to a lawsuit brought by two Uber drivers seeking reclassification as employees. That means thousands more of the company's 160,000 drivers in California could join the suit. The drivers are seeking reimbursement for expenses and tips, which would open the door to a minimum wage, meal breaks, workers' compensation, and unionization. On Sept. 15, Uber asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco to take up "the leading case raising urgent questions about the classification of sharing-economy workers" and reverse Chen's decision.