NYC Group Offers Uber Drivers Alternative to Unionization

The app-based driving service Uber considers its drivers independent contractors rather than employees, which generally prevents those drivers from unionizing. A new group for drivers in the New York City area hopes to get around this problem by forming a new "self-help organization."

The Uber drivers in the most populous city in the country can’t organize a labor union.

So, instead, New York City’s Uber drivers are forming an association. Amalgamated Local Livery Drivers in Solidarity (ALLES) is a new group that has the backing of traditional labor organizers, but ultimately it doesn’t have the teeth of a traditional labor group, because Uber drivers, by their nature, are not full-time employees and therefore cannot unionize.

In comments to Gothamist, ALLES co-chair Kevin Lynch said that the group “won’t be a union, but it could be a self-help organization.”

Lynch has experience with labor organizing, having helped unionize black-car drivers during the ’90s.

Not Employees, but Contractors

ALLES—chosen to reference the German phrase “uber alles,” or “over all”—comes at a time when Uber’s labor policies are facing more scrutiny than ever. Last month, the company settled a lawsuit affecting drivers in California and Massachusetts—a $100 million agreement involving 385,000 drivers, with $84 million of that total being handed out immediately.

Despite the financial windfall for the affected drivers, the deal did not change the legal status of drivers, who remain independent contractors in the eyes of the law. As part of the deal, however, Uber said it would recognize driver associations, though due to their employment status drivers still cannot unionize.

As for ALLES, whose roughly 1,000 members were not subject to the lawsuit, the organization hopes to deal with recent pain points affecting Uber drivers in the city and surrounding areas. In particular, members are upset with a recent 15 percent fare cut by Uber and want it reversed. They also want riders to be allowed to tip their drivers.

“It has been an honor and a joy to work with these 1,000 Uber drivers, most of them new Americans, as they’ve organized themselves in just a few short weeks to defend their rights as workers,” Lynch, told CBS New York.

Not Far Enough?

While ALLES represents one path forward for Uber drivers, some see the strategy to create a group that’s closer to an association than a union as somewhat limiting for drivers. In comments to Gothamist, New York Taxi Workers Alliance founder Bhairavi Desai said that Uber drivers should push to be treated the same as full-time employees—and gain the labor rights such a standard creates.

“Uber saying that it will recognize Uber associations is just good old company unionism, which builds no power for the workers,” Desai told the website. “We’re not looking to legitimize that model when we think a real union can be built.”

(Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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