Uber Welcomes ‘First Of Its Kind’ Drivers Guild

Connor D. Wolf | Reporter

Uber Technologies Inc. announced that it has recognized a labor group Tuesday formed to represent ride-sharing drivers in New York City.

Uber and other sharing-economy ventures have had a troubled relationship with the labor movement. The sharing-economy offers workers increased flexibility but often lacks traditional workplace protections. Uber has worked to bridge the divide and is now ready to recognize the Independent Drivers Guild which was formed to represent ride-share drivers in New York City.

“The guild is the first of its kind,” Guild Founder James Conigliaro Jr. said on a conference call, according to Newsmax. “Drivers need immediate support, and we truly believed it was our responsibility to create a structure to help independent drivers in New York.”

The International Association of Machinists formed the guild as a local affiliate to represent an estimated 35,000 drivers. The guild will provide drivers the ability to organize together but does not come with the full protections of a union with collective bargaining rights. Uber considers its drivers contractors which cannot form a collective bargaining unit like employees can.

“We haven’t always done a great job working with drivers,” Uber Chief Adviser David Plouffe said, according to CNN. “As our CEO, Travis Kalanick said two weeks ago, that’s not good enough. It’s time for a change.”

Nevertheless the guild could still provide benefits that drivers currently do not have. Uber and the guild for instance have formed a five-year agreement that will provide drivers the ability to discuss workplace issues with the company locally and nationally, Newsmax reports. It will also allow drivers to make an appeal if the company blocked them from the app.

The sharing-economy model involves smartphone-based applications in which individuals can build their own business. Airbnb for instance connects homeowners to people looking to rent a room, while Uber and Lyft connects drivers to those in need of a ride. The model has grown rapidly and has spread across multiple industries in just a few years.

The sharing economy has avoided many laws and workplace regulations because it utilizes contractors as opposed to employees. Uber drivers, for instance, aren’t employees of the company but rather independent workers that utilize the app. Unions say workers are being robbed of the benefits they deserve when they are classified as contractors instead of employees.

Seattle lawmakers proposed a bill last year that will force sharing economy ventures to treat their contractors like employees. Federal labor agencies have also worked to undermine the model and make it more like traditional counterparts. There have also been lawsuits by workers claiming Uber takes advantage because they’re classified as contractors.

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