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Lyft Looks for Business in an Unlikely Place 

Wednesday, Dec 9 2015

In the battle of San Francisco ride-hail companies, Lyft is the scrappy underdog. With its fuzzy pink mustaches and $4 billion valuation, it's the harmless Ewok to Uber's $62.5 billion Death Star.

Star Wars metaphors aside, the fundamentals of both companies are the same: both rely on drivers who are classified as independent contractors. This workforce is therefore denied basic labor rights, including minimum wage, overtime, and workers' compensation insurance. Both companies are also defending themselves in class-action suits brought by drivers seeking those very rights.

So it came as a surprise to the students who run U.C. Berkeley Law School's Wage Claim Clinic when Lyft reached out seeking a "partnership" whereby the group would advertise a Lyft promotion code on their website and receive a $10 kickback for each referral. Other workers' rights-minded student groups, including the East Bay Workers' Rights Clinic, received (and ignored) the same offer.

Charlie Sinks and Adam Koshkin, the law students who run the WCC, say that most of their clients are restaurant workers and in-home care providers — two industries notorious for wage theft — but they also see a fair number of "sharing economy" workers as well. In those cases, their first step is to advise the workers if a class-action suit has already been filed against their company.

A representative of U.C. Berkeley said that Lyft's outreach was not "officially sanctioned by the university" and the company likely consulted publicly available lists of student organizations. Lyft didn't respond to an inquiry, but Sinks and Koshkin offered their own response: "Rather than encouraging our counselors to ride with Lyft, we'd like for you to encourage any of your drivers who feel that they've been misclassified, underpaid, or made to pay for Lyft-related business expenses to come to our clinic where we can help them to file a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner!"

Lyft's "Partnership Specialist" has not replied.

About The Author

Julia Carrie Wong

Julia Carrie Wong's work has appeared in numerous local and national titles including 48hills, Salon, In These Times, The Nation, and The New Yorker.


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