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State job chief: Uber drivers are contractors, not employees

In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco.
In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. AP

Uber drivers are independent contractors and not employees of the ride-booking service, according to a ruling by the head of the state’s job agency.

In a ruling affecting unemployment insurance in the state, Department of Economic Opportunity Director Jesse Panuccio wrote in an order Thursday that the contract between Uber and its drivers, who use a smartphone app to identify passengers and pick them up, makes them contractors.

“The Department finds that the drivers at issue here — providers of transportation services through the Uber software application — are independent contractors, not employees, and are therefore not entitled to file for unemployment insurance in Florida,” Panuccio’s ruling says.

Earlier this year, Oregon and California made the opposite decision in similar cases, deciding that in their borders, drivers are employees of Uber.

While Panuccio’s decision only applies to unemployment insurance, it raises a bigger question about the relationship between companies like Uber and the people it pays, even as ride-booking apps’ mere existence continues to be an issue in some parts of the state, including Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties.

After losing access to the Uber app as drivers, Darrin McGillis of Cutler Bay and Melissa Ewers of Temple Terrace sought unemployment benefits from the state. They argued that because they had been earning a living through the app and had then lost that source of income, they were entitled to state benefits.

But Panuccio says existing state law provides for the relationship between Uber and drivers, as contractors.

“We need not break new legal ground or upend economic progress by transforming middlemen into employers,” he wrote.

MICHAEL AUSLEN

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