Drivers Say Uber and Lyft Are Blocking Unemployment Pay


Loree Levy, a spokeswoman for the California Employment Development Department, which oversees unemployment benefits, said by email that applicants who were not eligible for benefits because the state lacked their wage information could follow up, and that the department would investigate, awarding benefits if it deems them misclassified. She said the department investigated many such cases even without a follow-up, but declined to say whether it was working to require Uber and Lyft to report drivers’ wages.

Employers are obligated to contribute to a state unemployment insurance fund, but the companies’ failure to do so does not disqualify workers from receiving benefits. The state can pursue unmet payroll-tax obligations later.

Uber and Lyft declined to comment on the situation in California, but both companies have announced that they would provide pay to drivers nationwide who were diagnosed with Covid-19 or were asked by a public health authority to isolate themselves.

The stalemate has set up a showdown with increasingly desperate drivers. On March 11, Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Boston-based plaintiff’s lawyer who has won rulings against Uber and Lyft over the employment status of drivers, filed complaints seeking to force the companies to follow the state’s new law immediately, giving drivers access to unemployment benefits and sick days.

“It is very unfortunate that such a crisis may be necessary to prompt these companies into actually complying with the law and extending employment protections to their drivers,” Ms. Liss-Riordan said in an email.

Her complaints are pending in federal court.

While the cases play out, drivers around the state have stepped up efforts to demand that Uber and Lyft provide them with employment protections. A union-backed group called Mobile Workers Alliance, which Mr. Gage is involved with, began circulating a petition Friday demanding that the gig companies abide by the state’s new law deeming them employees. The petition has collected more than 6,000 signatures.

Lisa Opper, a Lyft driver involved with a group called Rideshare Drivers United, which held demonstrations on Thursday in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, said she typically worked 40 to 50 hours per week and made $900 to $1,000 before expenses. She made $226 the week before last, after which she stopped driving out of concern for her health.