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Uber CEO: We will shut down for months in California if new ruling not overturned

NBC News logo NBC News 8/12/2020 Cyrus Farivar
Dara Khosrowshahi wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone © Provided by NBC News

OAKLAND, Calif. — Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Wednesday that the company will halt service in its home state of California for a few months if a judge’s groundbreaking ruling this week is upheld on appeal.

“We will have to shut down until November,” Khosrowshahi told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle in an interview.

On Monday, Judge Ethan Schulman of the San Francisco County Superior Court found that there was an “overwhelming likelihood” that both Uber and Lyft had misclassified drivers as contractors rather than employees. Drivers make up the bulk of those companies' labor forces.

The ruling was the latest twist in a lawsuit brought against the companies in May by the state’s attorney general. Schulman put a hold on enforcement of his ruling for 10 days pending appeal.

Khosrowshahi said that if the company is forced to adhere to the judge’s ruling, it would “take a significant amount of time” for the company to retool.

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He said the new version of Uber in California would result in “much smaller service, much higher prices,” harking back to the early days of Uber, when it was largely a private car service that operated nearly entirely in city centers.

“That’s a reality, so it’s not a game of chicken one way or another,” he said. “It’s really up to the courts and we’re going to comply with the law, and we will look to get going again.”

Uber and Lyft save millions of dollars annually by classifying drivers as contractors. But by doing so, the judge found, they have been violating a 2018 California Supreme Court decision and a state law based on that ruling known as AB5. That law took effect on Jan. 1.

Employees, even part-time employees, are generally granted a slew of rights under California state and federal labor laws, while contractors are not. Those rights include workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment benefits and the right to unionize, among others.Last week, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office in Oakland also filed a similar lawsuit in Alameda County against Uber and Lyft for allegedly engaging in “systemic wage theft.”

The Uber CEO pushed for what he called the “best of both worlds” between employees and contractors, in the form of a proposed new state law, Proposition 22, which will be put to California voters in November. On Monday, the same day that the San Francisco judge ruled against Uber, Khosrowshahi wrote an op-ed in The New York Times arguing in favor of Proposition 22.

If enacted, Proposition 22 would grant a vast exemption to AB5 for Uber, Lyft and other similar gig economy companies including DoorDash. Those three companies in particular have contributed the overwhelming majority of the funding for the largest lobby group in favor of Proposition 22.

During the MSNBC interview, Khosrowshahi claimed, as Uber has done for several years, that drivers “want flexibility” for their work hours.However, there is nothing in AB5 or any other current state law that precludes Uber, or any other company, from offering both employment and scheduling flexibility.

Ultimately, Khosrowshahi argued that if Monday’s ruling is upheld, it will be harmful to drivers.

“It would put vast swaths of drivers out of work,” Khosrowshahi said.However, Schulman addressed this point head-on in his ruling Monday.

“But if the injunction the People seek will have far-reaching effects, they have only been exacerbated by Defendants’ prolonged and brazen refusal to comply with California law,” he wrote.

“Defendants may not evade legislative mandates merely because their businesses are so large that they affect the lives of many thousands of people.”

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