Fight Over Gig Workers Persists Despite Win for Uber and Lyft

“Tens of thousands of drivers in New York State, who as independent contractors were getting hundreds of dollars less, as employees are entitled to up to $504 a week,” said Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which helped bring the lawsuit. “The state would have to roll back a right that people have already enjoyed.”

The victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. also appears to have given labor additional leverage. The National Labor Relations Board under President Trump has deemed gig workers to be contractors, which denied them a federally protected right to organize. The Labor Department has taken a similar approach, suggesting in an opinion letter that some gig workers were not protected under federal minimum wage and overtime laws. In September, the department proposed a regulation that would codify and expand that finding.

But under Mr. Biden, who has longstanding ties to labor unions and who opposed Prop. 22, the labor board and the Labor Department are likely to back away from these positions. The president-elect has also come out in favor of the Pro Act, a proposal that would make it harder for companies to misclassify workers as contractors and effectively make gig workers employees under federal labor law.

The situation in Washington is not entirely clear cut, however. Some advisers to Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris also have ties to the gig companies or have written favorably about a compromise. Ms. Harris’s brother-in-law is Uber’s chief legal officer. Some labor activists worry that the Biden administration could be amenable to a deal with gig companies.

“We are trying to lead the way in California but it is necessary to deal with misclassification on a national level,” said Ms. Gonzalez, the assemblywoman. “I am hopeful that Joe Biden will do what his platform said and address these issues.”

The ultimate outcome in this fight could hinge on a sometimes-bitter debate on the left: Is it essential for gig workers to enjoy the status of employees, and the benefits and protections that guarantees? Or can gig workers win a living wage and favorable working conditions if they aren’t employees but have collective bargaining rights that allow them to demand these things from the gig companies?

Brendan Sexton, the executive director of the Independent Drivers Guild, an organization affiliated with the International Association of Machinists that has received funding from Uber and Lyft, has argued in testimony before the New York Legislature that “collective bargaining rights is the only way to stop the exploitation.”