In advance of Labor Day, City Attorney continues tradition of fighting misclassification that harms workers and exacerbates inequality
SAN FRANCISCO (August 31, 2023) — San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announced today that he has filed a lawsuit against Qwick, an on-demand hospitality staffing company, for illegally misclassifying its workers and denying them guaranteed protections, wages, and benefits. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of the People of the State of California and the City and County of San Francisco, alleges Qwick’s model of treating hotel and restaurant workers—including bussers, dishwashers, servers—as independent contractors is illegal and has dire consequences for workers, law-abiding competing businesses, and the broader public.
“As Labor Day approaches, we honor the contributions of workers throughout the history of the labor movement, while standing up to protect hard-earned rights from being eviscerated by new business models. Hospitality work is grueling, and our hotel and restaurant workers deserve to be treated fairly,” said City Attorney Chiu. “There is nothing special about Qwick’s business model. Qwick is inequality disguised as innovation, a staffing company with an app that is in flagrant violation of labor and employment laws. It uses convenience and flexibility to mask its decision to deny workers their rights. If this illegal business model is allowed to take hold, hundreds of thousands of positions in the food and beverage industry risk illegal misclassification, and hospitality workers will be pushed into poverty.”
“California passed the strongest law in the nation to stop worker misclassification, but laws cannot change employer practices unless there is enforcement,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, leader of the California Labor Federation and author of Assembly Bill 5. “Today’s filing by the San Francisco City Attorney‘s Office sends a strong message to law-breaking companies that worker misclassification will not be tolerated. Hotel and restaurant workers face widespread wage theft and safety violations and, in this case, were even classified as contractors to deny them the most basic protections. I commend City Attorney David Chiu for prioritizing labor law enforcement and seeking injunctive relief to stop these illegal practices. This kind of enforcement makes labor laws meaningful and life changing for workers.”
“Hospitality workers perform incredibly difficult work and provide services that millions of Californians rely on,” said Anand Singh, President of UNITE HERE Local 2. “Qwick’s workers are entitled to the same protections, wages, and benefits as their peers employed at hotels and restaurants. We appreciate the work of the City Attorney’s Office to root out worker misclassification before this business model can take hold in the hospitality industry.”
“We have seen these app-based companies play an increasingly nefarious role in the hospitality sector, transforming what should be decent, family-sustaining jobs into “gigs” without benefits, job security, or a ladder into the middle class,” said Kurt Petersen, Co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11. “We appreciate the important work of the City Attorney’s Office in taking on the pernicious problem of worker misclassification in our industry and holding corporations that engage in this kind of abuse to account.”
Qwick is an Arizona-based hospitality staffing company that has been operating in California since 2019. It has active markets in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Through its online platform, Qwick matches restaurants and event production companies with on-demand workers to fill empty shifts. Qwick workers fill many different front of house and back of house roles, including shifts for servers, bussers, bartenders, baristas, dishwashers, cooks, barbacks, event staff, and concession workers. When Qwick workers fill a shift, they work alongside and perform the same functions as hotel and restaurant employees.
Qwick refers to its workers as “freelancers” and independent contractors, but they are Qwick employees by every legal standard under California law. Qwick interviews workers, monitors their performance, tightly controls which shifts workers are eligible for, and terminates workers if they perform poorly. Qwick pays its workers directly, and workers are forbidden from soliciting employment from Qwick’s client businesses where they perform work.
As a result of this misclassification, Qwick’s workers are not provided overtime, required meal and paid rest breaks, health expenditures, or any type of paid leave guaranteed by state and local laws.
The People allege that the misclassification of Qwick’s workforce violates a host of state and local labor laws and denies workers the protections, wages, and benefits guaranteed under law. In doing so, Qwick has gained an unfair business advantage over other law-abiding businesses, constituting a violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law. The lawsuit seeks to stop to these practices and recover civil penalties, fees, and restitution for workers who have been harmed.
It is entirely possible to legally provide last minute or temporary staffing to businesses in the food and beverage industry. Many temporary staffing agencies do just that, but those workers are rightfully designated as employees. In fact, Qwick itself has experimented with providing “W-2 shifts” to workers in markets outside of California.
The San Francisco City Attorney’s Worker Protection Team
In 2022, City Attorney David Chiu established the Office’s Worker Protection Team to expand and build upon the Office’s longstanding commitment to protecting the rights of San Francisco and California workers. The Team investigates and litigates instances of wage theft, employee misclassification, and other abusive workplace practices.
This lawsuit against Qwick builds upon the Office’s enduring track record in combatting worker misclassification. The Office is actively litigating a groundbreaking misclassification case against Uber and Lyft in this area. And, following investigations by the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, the City Attorney’s Office secured multi-million dollar settlements benefitting DoorDash and Instacart workers.
Any current or former Qwick workers are encouraged to share relevant information with the City Attorney’s Office by calling (415) 355-3268 or emailing QwickWorkers@sfcityatty.org.
The case is City and County of San Francisco and the People of the State of California v. Qwick Inc. The complaint can be found here.