Uber and Lyft Are Now Playing Chicken With California Courts

Yet the Uber CEO says this is not “a game of chicken.”

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi speaks in 2019.Mark Lennihan/AP

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On MSNBC today—two days after a California judge ruled that Uber and Lyft must reclassify workers as employees—Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that if the company doesn’t win on appeal he might shut down the service.

“If the court doesn’t reconsider, then in California, it’s hard to believe we’ll be able to switch our model to full-time employment quickly,” he said. Instead, he suggested the company “will have to shut down until November.”  That’s the month when the Uber backed ballot initiative Prop 22, with $110 million in funding from gig companies, will be voted on. It would provide a carve-out for ride-share companies to continue treating drivers as independent contractors, undoing a long-fought and major win for gig worker activists. Experts say it could create a permanent class of underpaid workers.

Soon after, Lyft President John Zimmer said on an earnings call: “If our efforts here are not successful it would force us to suspend operations in California.”

This is a gambit, even if Khosrowshahi says it’s not “a game of chicken.” Khosrowshahi and Zimmer want the courts to reconsider; they’ll put everyone out of work if that doesn’t happen.

The remarks from Khosrowshahi are particularly ironic given that, just a few days ago, he wrote an impassioned New York Times op-ed admitting that drivers needed to be treated better; he said that “we need new laws” to help do that and suggested creating a benefit fund for healthcare.

Today’s interview makes it clear what he really thinks: We will blow ourselves up to not employ workers.

Uber’s strategy for dominance has long been clear: bend the law, gain market share, use your “essential” nature as leverage to do whatever the hell you want. But that’s also what makes his comment that Uber can’t possibly figure out how to manage under new rules so preposterous. As Gig Workers Rising, a tech labor group, said: “The idea that Uber and Lyft would shut down its app within one of its most lucrative markets is ridiculous, and just another empty threat in their attempt to avoid accountability.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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