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Labor groups urge Congress to reject Uber's push for new labor classification

Labor groups urge Congress to reject Uber's push for new labor classification

More than 50 labor groups on Wednesday urged congressional leaders to reject Uber's proposal for a new worker classification that would allow the ride-hailing company to continue treating its drivers as contractors instead of employees.

The groups said in their letter that Uber is "exploiting the moment to further strip protections from those on the front lines of the [coronavirus] crisis," arguing that gig workers such as Uber drivers should be reclassified as full employees.

The effort comes after CEO Dara Khosrowshahi sent his own letter to President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked by platform's pre-election blackout Mnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' Harris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden MORE last month asking the White House to consider legislative action on a "third way" worker classification that could let Uber maintain the flexibility of having independent contractors while adding some basic worker protections.

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“Rather than stand up for his employees, Mr. Khosrowshahi is seizing an unprecedented public health crisis to push forward a radical annihilation of our labor laws,” said groups such as the AFL-CIO, National Employment Law Project (NELP) and Gig Workers Rising.

“He is expanding a business model that has undermined the quality of life for Uber drivers and other workers,” they added.

A spokesperson for Uber told The Hill that designating workers as contractors or full employees presents “a forced choice between flexibility and protection.”

“We believe our laws should protect all workers, not just one type of work—and rather than restricting independent work, we should strengthen the protections and benefits afforded to it,” the spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday. “That’s why we called on the Administration and Congress to pass historic new protections for independent workers, and why we continue to advocate for updated laws that permit companies like ours to provide new benefits.”

Brian Chen, a staff attorney at NELP, told The Hill that the flexibility argument doesn't account for the amount of full-time drivers.

"There's no flexibility in working a so-called gig job full time and making less than a minimum wage," he said.

The coronavirus pandemic has amplified the already precarious working conditions of gig workers.

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Uber drivers, classified as contractors, are not guaranteed access to benefits such as a minimum wage and labor protections, including the right to organize.

Wednesday's letter credited Congress and the Trump administration for taking some steps to protect gig workers during the pandemic.

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package signed into law last month by Trump gives gig workers access to unemployment benefits.

However, states have struggled to make those benefits available quickly, due in large part to a historic surge in applications for unemployment benefits as the coronavirus pandemic batters the economy.

The labor groups said that even absent an economic crisis, gig workers need more protections.

"They should have the financial stability of a livable wage. They should have the flexibility to stay home when sick without risking financial ruin," they wrote. "If they lose work through no fault of their own, they should be able to receive unemployment assistance for which their employer has paid its fair share."

Updated at 6 p.m.