The Lincoln City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance on October 16th that would formally eliminate a requirement that Uber and Lyft drivers pass a physical, background check and test about Lincoln that taxi cab drivers currently have to pass in order to drive a taxi in Lincoln.
The City of Lincoln doesn’t have a workers’ compensation ordinance. But allowing Uber competitive advantages over taxi cab companies indirectly impacts workers compensation because if Uber takes market share away from traditional taxi cabs fewer drivers will be covered under workers compensation.
Lincoln does a have a human rights ordinance that covers more employees than either state or federal anti-discrimination laws. By allowing Uber a competitive advantage over traditional taxi cab companies, Lincoln is potentially excluding workers from coverage of that ordinance since Uber denies it is an employer. Traditional taxi cab companies are subject to Lincoln’s human rights ordinance.
Though U.S. lawyers are generally free from official harassment, some corporate litigants have resorted to totalitarian tactics against plaintiffs’ attorneys. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff smacked down Uber for hiring a former CIA agent to investigate an attorney prosecuting a class action suit against the ride-hailing company. Investigation tactics included using fake reporters to try to probe the plaintiff’s attorney for personal information.
So while the rule of law is much more secure in the United States than it is in many other countries, it is still threatened by overheated rhetoric and underhanded tactics.
Lincoln-based startup Liberty has announced that it has partnered with Panhandle Trails in rural western Nebraska for a ride-hailing app similar to Uber or Lyft to supplement public transportation options. This could be a positive development for injured workers in rural areas, as long as Liberty protects the rights of its potential drivers.
It is fairly well known that disability rates are higher in the rural United States than in urban areas. This is often attributed to physical nature of rural jobs and the older rural population. However, transportation costs are another factor in these higher rates of disability. The cost of transportation from a relatively isolated rural area can be too high to justify taking a job. This concern is frequently an issue in workers’ compensation litigation in Nebraska. If Liberty can make it easier for injured rural residents to find employment, I wish for its success.
Liberty states that they want to comply with their legal obligations, which is encouraging. But when Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, calls Uber drivers the “other dude in the car” and wants to have driverless cars so he can get rid of Uber drivers altogether, workers and their lawyers have good reason to be skeptical of the sharing economy. That’s part of the reason that advocates for employees are fighting legislative efforts to broadly exempt sharing-economy employees from workers’ compensation and fair-employment laws. Other advantages of having drivers classified as employees means that states will not miss out on tax revenue. Holding the status of an independent contractor also increases paperwork and the risks of not complying with tax laws for a driver.
Aside from the issues related to workplace law, I would hope that expanding ride-hailing apps to rural America won’t be used as an excuse to stop funding rural public transportation. But overall, ride-hailing will be a net positive for rural areas, as long as it is done in a way that protects the rights of drivers.