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Uber Drivers Rally in Queens to Fight Scourge of Misclassification, Demand Right to Unionize

via VICE

via VICE

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Uber and Lyft drivers recently held a rally outside the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) office in Long Island City, Queens. More than 14,000 rideshare drivers have petitioned in favor of unionization.

The drivers are frustrated about shrinking pay, increasingly strict driver policies, and soaring commissions charges. Their attempts to unionize are hindered, however, by their classification as independent contractors:

“We’re asking the Commission to order Uber and Lyft and those other companies to negotiate with us, and we believe under their charter, they have the ability to do so,” said local President Michael Cordeillo.

The ride-share workers — categorized as “independent contractors” rather than employees by tech companies like Uber and Lyft — had joined up with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, which represents city bus drivers. Copies of over 14,000 signed union cards sat in a fat bundle on the table in the center of the demonstration, 10,000 cards thicker since May.

Last May, Uber agreed to a deal with an offshoot of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) called the Independent Drivers Guild. The company agreed to let the Guild represent Uber drivers despite the drivers’ non-union status:

“Should drivers be classified as employees at any time, the Machinists can help them unionize, building on the strength of the Guild,” said James Conigliaro, Jr., founder of the Independent Drivers Guild and general counsel to the Machinists. “As the only union to successfully organize and unionize New York’s black-car drivers in the last 20 years—and the only union to negotiate key protections and a seat at the table with Uber—we are in the best position to win real change.”

Some critics point out that by reaching a deal with Uber before coming to any kind of agreement with the drivers, the Guild got it backwards.

Currently, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) is the group leading the charge to help Uber and Lyft drivers organize:

“The Machinists, we wish them well,” said ATU [field organizer Chris] Townsend, but his union sees itself as “natural allies,” with the Taxi Workers Alliance. The ATU, which currently represents the New York City’s school bus drivers along with a portion of its transit workforce, is simply taking a different approach towards the same goal of winning drivers basic workers rights, he said. 

[…] Since February, 14,000 cabbies, mostly with the two ride sharing companies, have signed union cards with Local 1181-1061, part of the 190,000-member, transnational Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU). That’s enough to surpass 30 percent of the total workforce, a threshold required under federal law to trigger a union election. The ATU and the drivers want a meeting with the commission in order to schedule a vote.

For their part, the TLC claims it has “no role whatsoever” in unionization of drivers:

“It’s also notable that we don’t recognize such distinctions as an ‘Uber’ or ‘Lyft’ driver, as all drivers now receive a universal license that allows them to drive yellow taxi, green taxi and for any black car, luxury limo or livery base, as well as to move among these sectors as they see fit,” [TLC Chair Meera Joshi] said in the statement.

Given the clear evidence of the more regulated taxi industry’s contraction and Uber’s explosive growth, the urgency regarding workers’ rights could not be higher.


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