Is There An Uber Union?

Uber Driver Benefits 2019

Uber Union 2019

The emergence of ride-hailing platforms, like Uber and Lyft, has fundamentally changed the transportation job market.

Ride-hailing apps have allowed independent, non-professional drivers to earn a steady income without being bound by traditional industry regulations – specifically, the old, established rules of taxi medallions; professional chauffeurs; and black-car licenses. Companies like Uber and Lyft have made it possible for almost anyone with a car (and a desire to earn money) to become a fare-earning driver, simply by signing up to an online platform and transporting people from point A to point B.

In many large cities across North America, the ride-hailing industry is still showing signs of rapid growth, and the number of ride-hailing drivers is reportedly approaching half-a-million.

Employee Benefits in the On-Demand Economy

Many drivers love the flexibility of ride-hailing jobs – but, at the same time, they also fear the lack of security provided by the ‘on-demand’ economy – particularly the absence of employee benefits, reliable pay, and union representation.

And – as with most industries – there inevitably comes a time when broad efforts are needed to promote fair treatment of workers  – particularly in industries (like ridesharing) where ‘independent contracting‘ constitutes a core business-model.

What is the Independent Drivers Guild?

Established in 2016, the Independent Drivers Guild is an organization that offers legislative and political representation to more than 45,000 ride-booking drivers in New York City.

This non-profit labor organization is the first of its kind – and, technically, the first ridebooking drivers-organization to have successfully negotiated with a TNC (Transportation Network Company). The IDG’s stated mission is to provide a better working environment for ridebooking drivers throughout North America, and to advocate for the implementation of driver-friendly policies in the broader TNC industry.

IDG’s core objectives are to gradually increase drivers’ guaranteed salary-earnings within TNC platforms; ensure greater job security; and help advocate for employee-benefit systems within TNCs.

uber union - is there an uber union

Who’s behind the Independent Driver’s Guild?

The Independent Drivers Guild was started by the Machinists Union, an advocacy group for NYC drivers. The Machinists Union was the first (and only) union able to successfully secure black-car driver representation. Their efforts resulted in the first ‘real’ union for independent drivers – as well as the first black-car driver pension and health-benefits system of the ‘modern ridesharing age’.

When Uber first emerged on the transportation scene (back in 2009/2010) many members of the Machinists Union quickly transitioned from traditional black-car jobs, into app-based systems like Uber and Lyft.

As a result, many former ‘chauffeurs’ soon discovered they had little-to-no job protection, by virtue of being classified as ‘independent contractors’ by TNCs.

Recognizing a growing need for driver advocacy, the Independent Drivers Guild was formed in 2016 – seeking to improve the rights of TNC drivers across North America.

How does the Independent Drivers Guild affect Uber drivers?

The Independent Drivers Guild represents all Uber drivers working in NYC (provided they register for free, and provide their TLC number to the Guild). In particular, IDG aims to improve the rights of drivers working with established platforms like Uber and Lyft (as well as emerging platforms, like Gett).

Through the IDG, drivers are able to access a range of benefits, including:

  • Representation to challenge deactivation
  • Regular participation in advocacy meetings, designed to highlight critical issues in the rideshare industry (and to help craft & determine solutions to industry-wide problems)
  • Access to discounted legal services
  • Discounts on roadside assistance
  • Discounts on a variety of vehicle maintenance services
  • Discounts on a range of associated businesses (i.e., phone, gas and electronics savings)

Dues-paying members are able to serve on committees, and participate in IDG’s stewardship program (which allows access to support and guidance for new drivers). Members are also able to act as representatives, liaising with company management during Works Council meetings.

IDG members also have access to a new group communication tool designed exclusively for ride-booking drivers, called Slack.

What is happening with ride-hailing unionization efforts elsewhere?

The Independent Drivers Guild is not the only ‘union’ being established for ride-booking drivers.

As the ridebooking industry expands worldwide, the need for substantive driver protections has increased dramatically – and a variety of organizations have sprung up to deal specifically with issues relating to TNCs and driver-industry relations.

A few of the most active, and prominent, organizations include:

Ride Share Drivers United – a similar organization to IDG, operating mainly in the United States and Australia. RDU has a stated mission to ‘protect the rights of ride share drivers through collective action, collaboration, and discussion’. Membership in RDU is currently free (and membership is growing quickly around the world).

The App-Based Drivers Association – ABDA is a similar non-profit organization to RDU and IDG, except that it was established in league with the well-known Teamsters Union in the United States. ABDA’s mission is to promote fairness, transparency, and justice between companies like Uber and Lyft, and their many drivers.

Internationally, one of the largest new ride-hailing ‘unions’ is the Ride Share Drivers’ Association of Australia, which was established in March 2016 – and designed specifically to represent the needs of independent-contractor drivers in Australia’s growing ride share industry. RSDAA’s goal is to protect drivers’ rights, build cross-industry unity, promote regulation, legislation, and safety, and improve service and standards for passengers, as well as drivers.

Why is establishing a union in the ride share industry so difficult?

Establishing a viable – and powerful – advocacy organization within today’s growing rideshare industry is tremendously difficult, due to one major structural condition – the rideshare/ridebooking industry is founded on the principle that drivers are not technically considered employees, but rather independent contractors. 

This is, in many ways, the bedrock principle of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. It ensures that drivers are not entitled to the same benefits as regular employees (such as health insurance, or retirement plans).

Thus, since the entire ride-hailing industry is financially (and structurally) premised on an independent-contractor model – the TNC industry has aligned itself squarely against any & all efforts to institute traditional ’employee’ models. Uber has, for instance, continued its fight against driver unionization (and has battled drivers seeking retroactive re-classification as ’employees’).

However – as an increasing number of rideshare drivers come to recognize the power of collective action, it is always possible that the wider ride-sharing industry undergoes substantial change – hopefully resulting in better (and increasingly fair) working environments worldwide, for a growing class of workers participating in the emerging ‘sharing economy‘.

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