Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian Says Uber Drivers Are Employees

A state opinion threatens the ability of Uber to treat its drivers as independent contractors.

A state opinion threatens the ability of ride-hailing company Uber to treat its drivers as independent contractors.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian issued an Oct. 14 finding that drivers for Uber and its competitor Lyft should be classified as employees—meaning they have rights to a minimum wage, workers' compensation, and harassment protections.

Avakian's opinion mirrors a June ruling by the California Labor Commissioner's Office. That same month, Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick, who helped legalize Uber's operations here, asked Avakian for his take.

"I would expect Uber to think very carefully about how Oregon law speaks to its relationship with its drivers," Avakian tells WW. "I would expect that they would provide their employees all the benefits and protections they're entitled to under Oregon law."

Uber managers tell WW they were blindsided by Avakian's finding—and strongly dispute it.

"The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries issued this opinion without apparently talking to any drivers and after a brief five minute phone call with Uber that came out of the blue," says Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend. "Unsurprisingly, it's full of assertions that are plain wrong. It's disappointing that a public body would have so little regard for the facts."

Uber argues that Avakian's opinion is based on inaccurate and outdated information.

"Fifty percent of drivers using Uber drive fewer than ten hours a week,"says Behrend, "less than even a traditional part-time job."

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