The lawsuit claims that drivers are forced to read pro-Prop. 22 messages whenever they open the Uber app to start work.
Uber drivers and nonprofits have launched a new lawsuit against the rideshare company, claiming it is abusing its economic power to “barrage” passengers with prompts to vote for Proposition 22.
According to The San Francisco Chronicle¸ the lawsuit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court by drivers and labor advocacy groups. Collectively, the allege that Uber is violating state laws prohibiting employers from “controlling or directing” workers to partake in political activities.
The lawsuit seeks at least $260 million damages along with injunctive relief.
As the Chronicle notes—and as LegalReader.com has reported before—Proposition 22 would keep drivers and couriers for companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart as independent contractors.
If approved, Proposition 22 would effectively exempt such services from California Assembly Bill 5, legislation intended to make it more difficult for companies to claim that workers are independent contractors rather than regular employees.
The bill would also entitle affected contractors to a minimum earnings baseline, as well as some benefits.
Uber—which has fought numerous lawsuits to retain contractor status for its drivers—claims that most of its drivers prefer the scheduling flexibility that comes with freelancing. The company has also stated that driver-led initiatives to secure regular employment are reflective of a small minority of workers.
The Chronicle observes that Uber and its corporate allies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising expenses to support Proposition 22. They have purchased television advertisements, circulated letters, and sent mass text messages.
Central to the lawsuit is another tactic used by Uber: its decision to advocate for Proposition 22 through its own rideshare application.
Accordingly, the lawsuit purports that the advertisements shown to drivers through the Uber app are taking advantage of “a captive audience whose members are economically dependent” on the platform.
The ads, says the court filing, include “factually unfounded assertions that [Uber’s] California drivers will lose their jobs.”
“Uber is using extremely coercive tactics to try to influence its workers to line up in support of Uber’s preferred political position,” said attorney David Lowe, who is representing the plaintiffs along with Legal Aid at Work.
“Let’s be absolutely clear,” Lowe said, “Uber’s threats and constant barrage of Prop. 22 propaganda on an app the drivers must use to do their work have one purpose: to coerce the drivers to support Uber’s political battle to strip them of workplace protections.”
Uber has since implied that the lawsuit lacks merit.
“This is an absurd lawsuit,” an Uber spokesperson said, “without merit, filed solely for press attention and without regard for the facts.”
“It can’t distract from the truth,” Uber added, ”[which is] that the vast majority of drivers support Prop. 22, and have for months, because they know it will improve their lives and protect the way they prefer to work.”
The Verge notes that this is not the first time Uber has been accused of sending unwanted or coercive text messages to passengers and drivers alike. Earlier this month, Uber faced criticism for forcing passengers to “confirm” they had seen a message explaining how Proposition 22 could affect fare pricing and wait times before being allowed to book a ride.