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Strippers and Ubers? They May Be More Alike Than You Think

Grant Whittington headshotWords by Grant Whittington
Leadership & Transparency
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When you think of Uber, strippers aren't likely to pop into your head. For one, Uber drivers, unlike taxi drivers, don’t expect a tip when the customer exits the car while strippers almost exclusively rely on tips for their financial security. But maybe the two careers have more in common than you think.

A federal jury in an appeals court ruled last week that strippers are considered employees, rather than independent contractors. Some of the guidelines used by the jury, with a final ruling from Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, can be applied to Uber drivers’ desire to become employees, rather than contractors, of the ridesharing company.

The case was introduced following a lawsuit from strippers in Maryland claiming they weren’t being paid salaries by their employers and were instead considered independent contractors. In September 2011, the dancers signed documents stating that they were not employees but rather worked for themselves. The dancers exclusively made their money from tips and “performance fees” while being denied a flatline wage.

Wilkinson and the jury looked at the Federal Labor Standards Act to determine whether the dancers constituted as workers who are “economically dependent on the business to which he renders service or is in business for himself.”

Wilkinson’s opinion stated that the clubs and their owners had almost complete control over the dancers’ work. They created the schedules, set workplace rules and priced the costs for private dances. He further wrote that clubs set their own hours, managed their advertising, and sold beverages and food at the clubs. Wilkinson concluded that the hands-on operations the club owners operated were too much to consider their dancers independent contractors.

A Bloomberg report noted that many of the takeaways from Wilkinson’s opinion can also be applied to Uber drivers’ fight for employment. Uber sets detailed rules and guidelines, creates fees, and advertises its own product. The only substantial difference is that dancers don’t set their own schedules, while Uber drivers put the keys in their ignition whenever they so please.

The article written by Noah Feldman suggests that Wilkinson acted intuitively in his decision because if the dancers worked in a club, they therefore must be employees. Feldman said that it’s often tricky to give “gig workers” titles and that there needs to be a better “way to analyze what the law requires when it comes to nontraditional forms of employment.”

In April, Uber settled two class-action lawsuits in California and Massachusetts in order to keep its drivers as independent contractors. The landmark agreement will require Uber to pay roughly 385,000 drivers $84 million, with another payment of $16 million if the company goes public and its valuation increases dramatically. Uber has no interest in treating its drivers as employees because the company would then have to dole out benefits and other costs, which would prove to be expensive.

So, while strippers received good news this month regarding their employment status, Uber drivers continue to pick up customers as independent contractors.

Image credit: Alper Cugun/Flickr

Grant Whittington headshotGrant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

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