Uber scored a major victory when the US government ruled drivers aren't employees, but not everyone is happy (UBER)

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  • An NLRB memo made public this week defines Uber drivers as independent contractors, not employees. 
  • Uber has fought tooth-and-nail to keep drivers classified as such, to avoid paying things like overtime and other benefits. 
  • We reached out to drivers to see how they feel about the news. Few were surprised, and many see it as yet another slight from the ride-hailing giant. 

Uber drivers will officially be classified as independent contractors — not employees — by the United States government.

That decision, a decisive win for Uber in its fight to avoid paying benefits like overtime and sick leave to its driver partners, was made public on Tuesday in an advisory memo from the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel dates April 16,

According to Reuters, the memo said Uber drivers are not employees because they set their own hours, own their cars and are free to work for the company’s competitors. Therefore, they cannot be considered employees under federal labor law.

It’s a decisive win for Uber, which warned in its IPO documents that being forced to pay minimum wages, overtime, and other expenses that come with full-fledged employees could seriously damage its business. For some drivers, though, it’s another blow to their argument that the classification should be switched.

(Last names have been omitted to protect the privacy of drivers, but Business Insider has confirmed their authenticity.)

“The laws need to be rewritten for independent contractors,” David, a driver in Sacramento, California, said in an interview. “Being an independent contractor allows us the freedom to drive whenever we want and refuse rides to passengers who put our safety and the safety of our personal vehicles at risk. The decision by the NLRB only really impacts those who are “lifers” in the ridesharing business, those who rely on the income to pay 100% of their bills. Denying any worker in this country legal protection is wrong.”

Other drivers were also disappointed, but some said it was no surprise, given how other similar efforts have failed.

“It’s extremely disheartening, but I can’t say I’m surprised,” Carson, who drives in Atlanta, said of the NLRB memo.  It’s tough, because if drivers became actual employees of the company, they’d probably lose some of the things that make the gig great, like flexible hours, instant payouts, etc. That being said, I’d sacrifice flexibility for actual employment and the perks that come with it. In an ideal world, Lyft would provide benefits for its drivers. I think letting anyone and everyone become a driver has made that less likely to happen.”

Yvonne, who drives in Atlanta, agreed: “I’m saddened, but not surprised.”

There’s also a vocal cohort that remains content as independent contractors.

“We know we aren’t employees, we knew that signing up,” Douglas, who drives in Dallas, Texas, said.

Austin, who drives in San Francisco echoed that sentiment, and said bluntly: ” I don’t want to be an employee. I like and need the flexibility of the gig.”

Some drivers criticized those who have taken to the platform full time — a very small minority, according to data from Lyft — and found it hard to make ends meet.

“It’s not what Uber was intended for,” Jamie, who drives in Minneapolis, said. “Uber is a part time gig to supplement your income and I believe it does that well. People shouldn’t count on it as a full time job to put food on the table.”

In response to the NLRB memo, an Uber spokesperson re-affirmed the company’s commitment to helping drivers with job security while maintaining their flexibility on the platform.

“We are focused on improving the quality and security of independent work, while preserving the flexibility drivers and couriers tell us they value.,” the company said.

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