Uber Driver Unions
When employees are unhappy with something, what do they do?
When it comes to personal well-being, working-conditions, and income, how do they make sure they’re being treated fairly? In many fields, workers turn to institutions like unions and employee protection institutions to make sure they’re being treated properly by employers.
However — if those institutions don’t exist, some workers start their own organizations to hold higher-powers accountable.
For some rideshare drivers, this is exactly what they’re doing — forming their own unions. What does this mean for Uber drivers, as well as the company itself?
The App-Based Drivers Association
A new organization called the App-Based Drivers Association (ABDA) is becoming an increasingly important presence in the emerging world of ‘rideshare unions’.
With locations and support across the country, the App-Based Drivers Association is a non-profit organization that promotes justice, fairness, and transparency amongst app-based drivers & their employers. It is being established in league with the America’s ‘Teamsters’.
Class-Action Lawsuit & Driver’s Association
Only a few short months ago, in April 2016, a large class-action lawsuit against Uber was finally settled. The multi-billion dollar rideshare company agreed to certain concessions, including the formation of a driver’s association that — in many ways — is extremely similar to a union. Uber also agreed to a $100 million settlement fee, paid out to its existing drivers.
However, the lawsuit’s settlement included a critical detail: it ensured Uber would still be able to treat drivers as ‘independent contractors’, not employees.
As a result, many drivers feel there is still a need for rideshare advocacy organizations (even after the lawsuit’s settlement).
There are a number of ways in which unions could affect both Uber and Lyft, mainly benefiting drivers:
- Increased Fares — When employees want to place pressure on a company, in order to increase fares, they often stop working. In the case of on-demand TNC drivers, organizing a ‘strike’, or actively halting all rideshare operations, is extremely challenging (on a practical level) — especially due to the ‘freelance’ nature of rideshare. Moreover, most rideshare drivers simply cannot afford to sacrifice real-time income generation (over 75% are entirely dependent on their week-by-week payments from Uber or Lyft). However, if drivers were partially unionized, they might be able to force Uber into a prolonged arbitration process over fares.
- City Reps to Negotiate — Many rideshare drivers are frustrated with their parent companies — feeling that they are not being adequately heard by executives. A union — with elected city representatives — would be a large step towards putting an effective system in place, improving driver support and increasing access to local rideshare information and feedback centers.
- Tipping — A true rideshare union would attempt to push for tangible changes within Uber’s App (as opposed to Uber’s recent concession of driver’s simply being able to ask or suggest tips). A new software-based tipping feature would, undoubtedly, be a top priority for any rideshare union.
- Appeals — When a driver’s rating is too low, it’s possible to become immediately deactivated by a rideshare company — no questions asked; no oversight; no accountability & no explanations from ‘higher-ups’. With a proper rideshare union, drivers would be able to protect themselves through a robust appeals process.
- Insurance — Insurance is currently a significant ‘gray area’ for many rideshare drivers. A union or rideshare advocacy organization would be free to push for expanded coverage — with the goal of significantly reducing the amount drivers need to pay out-of-pocket.
Teamsters — North America’s Strongest Union
Within California, Teamsters Joint Council 7 (which represents over 100,000 members) recently agreed to form an association for rideshare drivers. Teamsters, America’s largest and most diverse union, stated that they wanted their association to give rideshare drivers a stronger voice — improving overall standards for California-based drivers.
Currently, efforts to form the association are still within the early stages. Following the conclusion of Uber’s recent lawsuit (and the continued classification of drivers as ‘contractors), efforts by the Teamsters have increased.
An Association — But not a Union
To some extent, the classification of drivers as ‘contractors’ helps prevent true union-style organization amongst Uber’s drivers.
Drivers are still free to form an association, however — although associations tend to have more limited bargaining capabilities than unions.
The App-Based Drivers Association (as mentioned above) is likely to be the most significant step towards an actual advocacy organization for rideshare operators. And, based on the sheer number of Teamster members (as well as the intense media interest in the subject of TNCs and Rideshare), ABDA may find itself emerging as a strong bargaining tool over the next few years.
States and cities all have different regulations — and strong local rideshare associations will likely have to be formed in the coming years to ensure true, adequate representation for drivers.
ABDA City Chapters: