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Uber Responds To Labor Opinion In Oregon

<p>People can summon drivers from ride services like Uber through smartphone&nbsp;apps.</p>

Christina Belasco


People can summon drivers from ride services like Uber through smartphone apps.

Top officials at Uber responded Tuesday to recent preliminary findings issued by Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, criticizing the opinion that Uber's drivers are employees instead of independent contractors.

The status of an employee with a business like Uber or Lyft could affect how labor officials handle complaints against transportation companies.  

In a statement Tuesday, Uber Regional General Manager William Barnes argued that the way BOLI reviewed Uber was "erroneous and incomplete."

"This decision and subsequent push to media is surprising, since the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries did so apparently without talking to any drivers and after a brief five-minute phone call with Uber that came out of the blue and was without context," Barnes said.

He also said BOLI failed to acknowledge that half of Uber drivers work fewer than 10 hours a week. He argued that because Uber drivers don’t have fixed shifts and are allowed to work for competitors — such as Lyft — they shouldn’t be considered employees. 

Earlier this month, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said his department reviewed six factors before determining transportation network drivers are employees instead of contractors. They were:

Degree of Control: Whether the worker is running his or her own business or dependent on the employer,

Relative Investments: Who spends what so the worker can do the job,

Worker’s Profit and Loss: A worker’s ability to profit or lose money,

Skills and Initiative: The job’s dependence on business skills (judgment, initiative) beyond technical work skills,

Permanence: How long the job is expected to last, and

Work As Integral Part of Business: How critical to a business’ core function is the job.

"These six factors from the economic realities test illustrate how Uber drivers are not operating their own separate businesses with the degree of autonomy one expects with an independent contractor," Avakian wrote in the preliminary finding.

Barnes addresses each of the six points in Tuesday's response, and states that Oregon's findings are "simply wrong" when compared to states like Colorado, California and New York, which found drivers to be independent contractors.

After issuing the advisory opinion, Avakian made clear that it won't necessarily dictate how labor officials respond to a complaint. Instead, he said BOLI would look at each case on its own merits.

Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Ryan Haas has been with Oregon Public Broadcasting since 2013. His work has won numerous awards, including two National Magazine Award nominations for the podcast "Bundyville." Prior to working at OPB, Haas worked at newspapers in Illinois, Florida, Oregon and the Caribbean.