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IBEW Makes Formal Request to Represent Uber Drivers at LaGuardia Airport

Uber drivers protest in front of the company's NYC offices (via New Yorker)

Uber drivers protest in front of the company’s NYC offices (via New Yorker)

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Last week, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1430 made a formal request to represent more than 600 Uber drivers who pick up passengers from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport.  The union submitted a required petition showing that over 30 percent of the drivers wished to be represented by the IBEW and filed a request that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hold a formal election. The full petition can be read here.

According to the International Business Times, the decision to unionize was sparked by recent fare cuts.  In order to aid the company’s aggressive expansion, Uber recently cut driver fares nationally, by anywhere from 10 to 45 percent according to reports. These fare cuts sparked action in San Francisco ahead of the Super Bowl.  

First and foremost, the NLRB has to decide whether the group of drivers properly qualifies as a bargaining unit.  They need to be employees, which technically they are not. However, proper employee classification is one of the hottest topics among Uber drivers, who feel the amount of control Uber has over them during their workday frequently falls in line with the legal definition of an employee. The airport-specific nature of these drivers is a factor as well. Explaining to POLITICO why they felt it was appropriate to move forward with the petition, Local 1430 Business Manager Jordan El-Hag said:

“They’re somewhat structured under hubs at Uber.  There are regulars that go to work at that location.  That’s based on the initial information we gathered.”

Speaking to the International Business Times, Wilma Liebman, a former chairwoman of the NLRB, touched on both sides of the argument:

“It turns in large part on the nature of control that the purported employer exercises over the way the alleged employee does work.  Uber’s going to argue, ‘Well, they supply their own cars, they work whenever they want, we don’t require them to work certain shifts or hours or anything like that,’ and the drivers are going to show the nature of the extensive control that Uber does have.”

Aiding the drivers’ argument will be the fact that many complain they have no way of disputing fare changes or terminations.  In a recent settlement, drivers at Uber competitor, Lyft, earned this right through an arbitration process.  According to Liebman, this argument could greatly bolster the driver’s’ case.

“From what I know about the nature of the control, I think there’s a strong argument to be made that they are employees,” she said.

Uber is expected to appeal the possible union vote and vehemently fight any attempt to organize its drivers. 


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