Professor Veena Dubal’s research focuses on the intersection of law and social change in the work context. Within this broad frame, she uses empirical methodologies to study (1) the meaning of law in the lives of precarious workers, (2) the role of public interest lawyering in social change movements, and (3) the co-constitutive influences of the law on work and identity.
Professor Dubal joined the Hastings Faculty in 2015, after a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University (also her undergraduate alma mater). Prior to that, Professor Dubal received her J.D. and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, where she used historical and ethnographic methodologies to study workers and worker collectivities in the San Francisco taxi industry. The subject of her doctoral research arose from her experiences as a public interest attorney and Berkeley Law Foundation fellow at the Asian Law Caucus where she founded a taxi worker project and represented Muslim Americans in civil rights cases.
Complementing her academic scholarship, Professor Dubal’s legal commentary is regularly featured in the local and national media, particularly her current research on precarious workers in the so-called “sharing economy.”
Areas of Expertise (9)
Work and Identity
Sharing Economy and Law
Law and Social Change
Sociology of Social Movements
Critical Race Theory
Postdoctoral Fellow (professional)
Clayman Institute, Stanford University
Graduate Fellow (professional)
Center for Research on Social Change, UC Berkeley
BELS Fellow (professional)
Center for Law & Society, UC Berkeley
Berkeley Law Foundation Fellow (professional)
Asian Law Caucus
Fulbright IIE Grantee (professional)
University of California, Berkeley: Ph.D., Jurisprudence and Social Policy
University of California, Berkeley - School of Law: J.D., Law
Stanford University: B.A., International Relations (Major) and Feminist Studies (Minor)
Media Appearances (28)
Is Amazon's Army Of Contractors Being Exploited This Holiday Season?
On Point - NPR radio
Independent contractors are delivering your Amazon holiday packages. Are they being exploited?
Some Instacart Contractors Are Striking in Protest of Allegedly Awful, Sub-Minimum Wage Pay
At least some delivery workers for Instacart, a so-called gig economy app that dispatches an army of shoppers and drivers to deliver groceries and other supplies directly from retail stores to customers, have launched a two-day strike from Sunday to Monday in protest of what they claim are abusive working conditions and pay rates below the minimum wage.
Instacart workers plan Sunday-Monday strike
San Francisco Chronicle online
Some Instacart shoppers and drivers, the people who buy and deliver groceries to the companies’ customers, have beefs about their compensation. Those grievances are bubbling over into a planned strike on Sunday and Monday.
A 1960s Law Blocks Firefighting Contractors From Suing State
The families of the hundreds of private contractors who help California battle wildfires every year can’t hold the state legally accountable if their loved ones are killed or injured during a blaze. That’s because under a law passed in 1963, neither public agencies in the state nor their employees can be held liable “for any injury caused in fighting fires.”
Family of Dozer Driver Who Died in Big Sur Fire Drops Suit Against State
The relatives of a private contractor killed in last year’s massive Soberanes Fire near Big Sur have given up pursuing their wrongful death lawsuit against the state of California. Robert Reagan, 35, died after the bulldozer he was operating tipped over down an embankment several days after the epic Monterey County wildfire began in July 2016.
Homeless, assaulted, broke: drivers left behind as Uber promises change at the top
The Guardian online
It was billed as one of the most important company-wide meetings in the history of Uber. Yet as staff gathered on Tuesday morning at Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, there was one very conspicuous absence.
Uber’s top business officer leaves company after investigation
San Francisco Chronicle online
Emil Michael, the chief business officer who took Uber from operations in a handful of cities to an international ride-hailing juggernaut, has left — the latest in a string of executive departures.
Uber’s Latest Drivers’ Benefit Dinged for Lacking Substance
MIXED REVIEWS FOR UBER’S RETIREMENT OFFERING — In a bid to demonstrate it cares about its drivers’ well-being, Uber announced a partnership with robo-financial adviser Betterment on Wednesday to enable them to open retirement savings accounts. Through the partnership, drivers in Seattle, Chicago and Boston will be able to start IRAs and Roth IRAs that have no minimum requirements, reports Pro Labor’s Marianne Levine. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a longtime advocate for improving worker conditions in the gig economy, shared his support for Uber’s actions: “I have been urging new and innovative solutions to allow workers in the on-demand economy to access the array of savings and social insurance protections traditionally provided through full-time employers,” he said in a statement. “I am encouraged that Uber is taking steps to be part of these conversations.”
Seattle Lyft-Uber Union Still in Neutral
A judge has shot down the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s suit against a new ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council that would legalize unionization for Uber and Lyft drivers. However, it’s likely only a temporary halt to the challenge: The judge opted to dismiss the case because the ordinance has yet to take effect. As Pro Labor’s Cogan Schneier reported, a Chamber spokeswoman said the judge “made clear at oral argument that he stands ready to hear a challenge to Seattle's unprecedented ordinance in the future.”
Uber, Lyft drivers push to unionize
San Francisco Chronicle print
In five years as a union organizer, Misty Tanner has approached employees of San Bernardino and Butte counties, and school bus drivers and custodians in Clark County, Nev. But now she’s facing a unique challenge: signing up Bay Area Uber and Lyft drivers for representation by the Teamsters.
S.F. Judge to Decide Tentative Approval of Uber Labor Settlement
Judged Edward Chen expressed a number of concerns about the settlement, questioning how some key provisions would be enforced. After a nearly four-hour hearing in a packed federal courtroom, Chen said he would take the settlement under submission and issue a ruling later.
Some Uber Drivers Question $100 Million Settlement
Wall Street Journal print
A proposed $100 million settlement between Uber Technologies Inc. and its drivers in Massachusetts and California is facing resistance from some of the drivers it was meant to help. As U.S. District Judge Edward Chen weighs whether to approve the deal, dozens of drivers have filed objections to the agreement, saying it shortchanges them or denies them the opportunity to let a jury decide on key questions like their legal status.
Late arrivals: Uber drivers who missed filing deadline are still bashing proposed lawsuit settlement
Los Angeles Times online
When lawyer Veena Dubal heard last month that Uber drivers seeking to be recognized as employees rather than independent contractors might settle their class-action lawsuit before it went to trial, she cried.
Do Airbnb hosts discriminate against renters by race?
Christian Science Monitor online
For many vacationers, Airbnb has become the alternative to expensive hotels, allowing travelers to stretch their dollars by staying in short-term rentals in private homes. But for many black vacationers, booking a room has sometimes proved to be a challenge – as more African-Americans have been sharing their experiences on Twitter under the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack....
Uber, Lyft pullout in Austin shows political prowess
San Francisco Chronicle print
Uber and Lyft, companies worth billions of dollars, have decided to take their ball and go home, “pausing” operations in Austin, Texas, to protest city regulations that their drivers must submit to fingerprint background checks. The companies’ pullout has cut off a vital source of income for thousands of drivers, and leaves passengers stranded as well.
Airbnb: how US civil rights laws allow racial discrimination on the site
The Guardian online
The four black students who sat down at a white’s only lunch counter at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960 catalyzed a nationwide protest movement that led, eventually, to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: landmark legislation that outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations – restaurants, stores, hotels, and other businesses.
Uber may be liable for accidents, even if drivers are contractors
San Francisco Chronicle print
Uber drivers in California will be classified as independent contractors, rather than employees, if a federal judge in San Francisco approves a huge legal settlement. But the ride-hailing company’s success at fending off employer status for labor purposes may not relieve it of responsibility should one of its drivers run over a pedestrian.
Uber Reaches a Tipping Point With Its Drivers
Wall Street Journal print
Uber Technologies Inc. transformed the taxi industry by coming up with a seamless way to match customers with its army of drivers. Using the company’s ride-hailing app on their smartphone, Uber riders summon a car that arrives within minutes and whisks them to their destination. Because the fare is automatically charged to their Uber account, customers alight from the car without having to fumble with payments and gratuities—a smooth, cashless experience compared with a typical taxi ride.
Will protesting Uber drivers disrupt Super Bowl transit?
San Francisco Chronicle print
A price-cut war between Uber and Lyft has sparked Uber driver protests and highlighted differences in how some drivers view the two ride-hailing companies. Uber slashed prices for its service in January and February in various markets, saying it was combatting a seasonal slowdown. In San Francisco, prices went down 10 percent, while fares in the East Bay and South Bay were reduced by 20 percent. Drivers can still make a guaranteed amount per hour if they hit certain benchmarks, such as accepting 90 percent of ride requests, it said. Lyft followed suit with price cuts in a number of markets, telling drivers that it was the only way to keep customers. In the Bay Area, Lyft cut prices by 10 percent.
Your Cheap Uber Rides May Be Going Away. And That's a Good Thing. A landmark court ruling against Uber may rewire our relationship with labor.
Mother Jones online
A taxi driver protests against Uber. Scott L/Flickr No company right now elicits a wider range of emotions than Uber. The on-demand ride service has grown in six short years from an idea hatched by a couple of San Francisco tech bros to a $50 billion juggernaut that serves millions of users in 290 cities. Its name has not only become a verb, like that of Xerox or Google, but shorthand for an entire industry. Now an army of start-ups offers quick, cheap delivery of goods and services—everything from maids and mechanics to pizza and pot—by independent contractors tethered to smartphone apps. If you live in a major city, earn decent money, and know how to punch buttons on your phone, then you can thank Uber and its ilk for making your life a hell of a lot easier.
Uber’s Defense in California Driver Class-Action Lawsuit: ‘LOL Laws LOL’
Pacific Standard Magazine online
Four hours into the hearing, the judge was clearly growing impatient. It was Uber’s last opportunity to argue its case before Judge Edward Chen ruled on whether or not the ride-hailing company’s California drivers could move forward with a class-action lawsuit, alleging they’ve been misclassified as contractors instead of employees. Uber’s lead attorney, Ted Boutros, argued that the company’s tens of thousands of drivers were all so different that they couldn’t be reasonably allowed to sue as a class. “Doing it all at once, 160,000 people, it’s a risky gamble for the system,” Boutros said.
Uber Headache: Driver Was Employee, Sats State Labour Commission
Forum with Michael Krasny online
In a decision that could threaten Uber's business model, the California Labor Commission has ruled that one of the company's drivers qualifies as an employee. Uber drivers are usually treated as third-party contractors, who use their own cars to provide rides to passengers found through the company's mobile phone app...
Baby, You Can Drive My Car, and Do My Errands, and Rent My Stuff…
Time Magazine print
He seemed nice enough–a little sweaty from walking up the hill to my house, but I’ve got faux-leather seats that are easy to wipe clean. I’m renting it to him for $27 a day through RelayRides, a company that facilitated my transition from “dude with a car” to “competitor with Hertz.” The French guy visited me a day early on a practice walk to make sure he could find my place, which is tucked away up a bunch of steep, winding roads. When I saw his sweaty face, I just gave him the keys to my yellow Mini Cooper convertible instead of having him hike back the next day. He returned the car with a full tank and left $27 in cash in an envelope to pay me for the extra day, even though I told him not to. Afterward, the French guy and I rated each other five out of five on the RelayRides app. It was the most successful American-French exchange since the Louisiana Purchase.
Uber, Lyft, Airbnb harness users to lobby lawmakers for them
SF Gate online
“There are so many huge social issues that people could be involved in that I’m aghast that this is where individual energies are being directed,” said Veena Dubal, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford who studies the ride-hailing companies. “They’re not out to save the world by any stretch of the imagination, and yet that’s how supporters view them.”...
Uber's Existential Crisis
Today's Ozy online
“The degree of control the employer exerts over its workers is a major factor” in worker classification, said Veena Dubal, a Stanford fellow who researches the San Francisco taxi industry and ride-sharing business. She said she’s heard from rideshare drivers who have been told to avoid discussing policies, or to refrain from listening to foreign music or speaking in a foreign language. With “these ‘independent contract’ drivers, … these companies are already at risk,” she argued...
Tio get a fair share, sharing-economy workers must unionize
Al Jazeera America online
“We were just getting somewhere with taxi drivers,” says organizer and labor researcher Veena Dubal, who works with the NTWA. “The taxi industry has always been at the cutting edge of problematic shifts in work.” In San Francisco, many cabs now sit in parking lots at peak times, and taxi drivers in Uber’s major markets report making significantly less than they were just a year ago. One cab company president said he’d be surprised if the local industry survived the next 18 months under current conditions...
'Bandit' cabs are bad for drivers and passengers
SF Gate online
You may not know it, but if you use a company such as Lyft or SideCar instead of a licensed taxi, you are pushing out full-time, professional, regulated work. These companies enable virtually anyone who has a car to act as a taxi, matching them (via an app) with someone nearby who needs a ride. Touted as an innovation in "collaborative consumption," such pseudo-cab services are anything but collaborative, undoing more than 100 years of hard-fought advances in urban transportation and safety...
State Rejects Appeal by Employer of Truck Driver Killed in North Bay Fire
An administrative hearing officer has rejected an attempt to reverse penalties imposed against the firm that employed the only firefighter killed in Northern California’s October wildfires. Last month, state workplace regulators fined Red Bluff-based Tehama Transport and ordered it to stop working after determining the company failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
Selected Articles (4)
Wage Slave or Entrepreneur: Contesting the Dualism of Legal Worker IdentitiesCalifornia Law Review
Today, whether a worker is legally classified as an “employee” or an “independent contractor” defines whether he or she is entitled to any employment and labor law protections. With the proliferation of the on demand economy, the doctrinal definitions and legal analyses of these categories are fiercely contested. While businesses have attempted to confine the definition of the employee to limit their financial and legal liabilities and risks, public interest lawyers have worked to broaden the definition, ensuring that more workers are covered and protected by the law. How did U.S. law come to divide workers into these two categories, how have the definitions evolved historically, and how do workers today make sense of them? This Article challenges the duality of worker classification in employment regulation by positioning the “employee” and the “independent contractor” in U.S. legal history and in the lives of contemporary workers. Part I situates the debate in work law scholarship. Part II uses historical and legal archives to challenge the prevailing assumptions about the employee and independent contractor in employment and labor law. I argue that the existence of the dualism of worker categories is more recent than previously understood and that contemporary doctrinal tests reflect not bright line legal rules, but evolving political and cultural philosophies about work. Finally, Part III investigates the impact of this legal meaning making on the ground. Through ethnographic research and analysis, I find that these categories of work have taken on social meaning for workers, often disrupting worker collectivities. The Article concludes that both doctrinal analyses of the employee category and lawyering methodologies to advance the interests of workers must be more attendant to workers’ realities.
The Drive to Precarity: Work, Regulation, and Labor Advocacy in San Francisco's Taxi and Uber EconomiesBerkeley Journal of Labor and Employment Law
This Article examines both the creation of secure work and its ongoing demise through a critical historical and contemporary case study: over a century of chauffeur work in San Francisco, California. Employing a combination of historical archives and sociological research, I show how chauffeur driving became a site of secure work for much of the twentieth century and how this security unraveled over the course of many years. Since their entrée on the streets in 1909, chauffeur corporations—from the Taxicab Company to Uber—underwent formative re-organizations to shift the liabilities and responsibilities of business onto workers. Counterintuitively, these changes in corporate form were met with decreased regulation and a contracted business-labor bargain. I contend that the transformation of the corporate form, the shrinking bargain, and the rejoinders of the state triangulated to produce worker risk and weaken the relationship between work and security. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.15779
Assessing the Impact of Misclassification Litigation on Workers in the Gig EconomyWisconsin Law Review
As on-demand labor platforms proliferate the independent contractor business model, plaintiffs’ attorneys in the United States have filed dozens of misclassification lawsuits to secure rights and protections for workers. The conventional wisdom is that if these lawsuits are won, then they will reverse the growth of insecure work. This Article challenges this widely-held assumption. Using empirical research, I examine the trajectories and legacies of three celebrated misclassification lawsuits from earlier moments of transportation “gig work” in California: Tracy v. Yellow Cab Cooperative, Friendly Cab v. NLRB, and Alexander v. FedEx. Against many odds, plaintiff workers secured judicial recognition of employee status in each of these cases. The untold, post-litigation stories, however, were surprisingly grim: workers’ economic lives were no more secure — and in some cases more precarious — then before the lawsuits. While I maintain that such litigation plays an important deterrence role, this Article highlights the significant limitations of misclassification litigation victories in effecting and enforcing the rights of gig workers. Based on this data, I critique the (over) reliance on the private enforcement of employee-status to fight precarity in the on-demand gig economy and suggest lessons for future advocacy.
The Demise of Community Policing: the Impact of Post-9/11 Federal Surveillance Programs on Local Law EnforcementAsian American Law Journal
Police reform over the past thirty years has been guided by the philosophy of "community policing," or the theory that police departments overcome poor community relations by engaging in initiatives that build mutual trust. The advent of the War on Terror brought about the intermingling of federal policing initiatives with local law enforcement. The clashing goals of federal and local police entities undermine local police goals and reformation initiatives based on "community policing." Using San Francisco as a case study, I argue that overbroad surveillance and information gathering by local police fundamentally undermines trusting relationships between police and the community. I also maintain that police legitimacy depends in part on procedural fairness. Therefore, to the extent the police engage in surveillance practices without clear standards, oversight, and accountability, they are perceived as being less legitimate in the eyes of the community. This, in turn, undermines the trust-building goals of community policing.
Critical Race Theory