The Stack Archive

Uber and Lyft drivers allowed to form union in Seattle – more to follow?

Tue 15 Dec 2015

Uber and Lyft drivers have won the right to form a union in the city of Seattle after the city council voted unanimously in favour of the proposal on Monday afternoon.

The new ordinance will apply to any app-style dispatch or driving service company which follows the ‘contractor’ model which Uber has been defending in California and elsewhere, and will require companies which run the services/apps to provide the city with a list of drivers operating there. After that a non-profit organisation, effectively a union, will contact the listed drivers, although any such organisation will be required to gain the support of a majority of the drivers at the company in question.

Uber descended on Seattle in the run-up to the vote with a publicity campaign designed to weaken support for the ordinance, the first of its type to be put in place for Uber-style app companies, which effectively provide zero-hours contract work to their ‘partners’. Seattle’s mayor Ed Murray won’t be signing the bill, and is reported to have put pressure on the council against passing the bill prior to the vote, but his lack of support won’t hold up the bill’s passing into law.

The bill’s sponsor, council member Mike O’Brien, was jubilant upon hearing the news, stating in a news conference “This bill was only introduced out of necessity after witnessing how little power drivers themselves had in working for a living wage,” adding “I am proud Seattle is continuing to lead the nation in advancing labor standards for our workers.”

Over at the general barometer of astroturfed discontent which is uberpeople.net, there has also been some celebration. UberX driver Blackdog posted:

A collective voice will allow us to implement what the majority of us want:
# 1 A higher base fair per mile – per minute. 50% the cost of a taxi and no tip is crazy. Most passengers have no idea how little we get paid. They like us much more than taxi’s … so why not pay a little more. Say 80% of a taxi rate ?
# 2 A minimum fare. My lowest paid trip was $ 2.34 pay out to me after Uber took it’s cut. Drove 15 minutes to passenger and a 3 minute trip. Waste of time. I earned even less than $ 2.34 after vehical operating expenses and tax. Add multiple of these rides in per day and I make about $ 3 an hour !!!
# 4 Tipping feature in the app. Come on Uber – Lyft has figured this out !
# 5 Basic moral dignity from retaliation from Uber or poor ratings getting you off the platform.
# 6 This 5 star rating system needs work.
I support having a livable wage – good working conditions – basic respect.

But RobGM4 represented some of the community’s anti-dissent sentiment in response to another member’s call for Denver to likewise form a union for Uber drivers:

Terrible idea. We don’t need a union. If you are so fed up with prices…stop logging on. They will go back up if driver supply goes down. Raise prices artificially and you will only get more overcrowding. Raise prices and restrict number of drivers and you will end up only with career uber drivers. People like me won’t be able to randomly log in when we want.

Seattle’s new bill was advocated also by Teamsters Local 117, who are currently also in celebratory mood.

The creation of the first union for Uber and Uber-model ‘apps’ (not employers, remember) won’t have a direct influence on the company’s current disputes with various states about whether or not the people who gain fares via its framework are really ‘independent contractors’ or employees – but it certainly won’t do any harm in the fight against what is effect the ZHC-ing of conventional work, with all its assurances, insurance and protection of basic rights, via the backdoor of technology.


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