NEW ORLEANS – Creating "a level playing field" and finding "a way to heat things up" could be what's behind postcards sent to New Orleans UberX drivers this month, a labor law professor said recently.
The postcards, bearing the return address of the nonprofit NOLA Taxicab Legal Fund, whose directors include plaintiffs in a lawsuit against 10 UberX drivers, started turning up in New Orleans-area UberX drivers' mailboxes earlier this month. One side of the postcard, in bold letters, says, "Attention UberX Driver, You may be the subject of a lawsuit."
On the other side, the postcard says, "If you are driving for UberX without the proper license, you may be breaking the law. A lawsuit seeking monetary damages has been file against UberX drivers. Lawsuit 2016-905 claims that some UberX drivers are in violation of state law that requires for hire vehicles transporting passengers to have a valid Louisiana Class 'D' Chauffer's license or a Commercial Louisiana Driver's license that encompasses Class 'D' Chauffer's [sic] license privileges."
"I think this is a way to heat things up and to make matters more difficult for Uber," Miriam A. Cherry, a labor law professor at St. Louis University in Missouri, recently told the Louisiana Record.
While UberX drivers are the clear target, the postcard does not mention that two directors of NOLA Taxicab Legal Fund are named plaintiffs in a lawsuit, filed on Jan. 26 in the Civil District Court in New Orleans. They are Reginald Green, who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit; and Eddie Cutno, who is a named plaintiff in the case.
Louisiana Record received no response to repeated requests for comment made to attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, NOLA Taxicab Legal Fund or an Uber spokesperson.
Plaintiffs in the case are suing 10 named UberX drivers and also is seeking class-action status. Specifically, the lawsuit seeks to name as members of the defendant class, "All UberX drivers operating in the Metropolitan New Orleans area whom do not and/or did not possess a validly issue [sic] Louisiana Class 'D' Chauffeur's license or a Commercial Louisiana Driver's license which encompasses Class 'D' Chauffeur's license privileges as required by Louisiana law at any time during the time period April 16, 2015 through the present."
The postcards may be a means to achieving that end, Cherry said.
"My guess is that they do not want the additional competition or option that Uber provides," Cherry said. "Also, and this is a more sympathetic motivation, if they are going to need to compete with Uber, they want a level playing field. So if taxi drivers have to obtain a commercial license, have background checks and pay fees, they want Uber drivers to do the same."
UberX drivers who participate in the online forum UberPeople.net have discussed receiving the postcard in several threads. Topics also include how to go about getting commercial drivers' license and how their addresses were obtained for the mailing.
"No one wants to be sued," Cherry said. "These Uber drivers just want to work, not to be hauled into court. One would hope that Uber would pay for their legal fees and their defense, or otherwise indemnify them, since it was working on the Uber platform that resulted in their being sued."
Uber is the defendant in an ever-growing number of lawsuits. In 2015 alone, 50 lawsuits were filed by contract drivers, competitors and customers against Uber in federal court. Uber's nearest competitor, Lyft, faces only a third as many lawsuits filed against it in federal court during the same period.
The New Orleans lawsuit, however, is unique among Uber lawsuits in that the defendant is not Uber, but the named 10 UberX drivers.
Uber has been operating in New Orleans since last April after approval of a city ordinance that allows ride-sharing services in the city. Lyft began operating in New Orleans earlier this month.