Jen Joyce, a Seattle-based group supervisor for Uber.
Ted S. Warren / AP
For years, Uber has battled driver complaints of unfair treatment. However this week, the $48 billion startup announced its curiosity in exploring state laws that might present sure advantages to gig employees, a lot of whom — together with attorneys and labor activists — have fought for years to be acknowledged as workers.
On the floor, the shocking information implies that Uber’s sense of accountability to its huge unbiased contractor workforce has shifted. However critics say it’s little greater than a PR scheme designed to distract from Uber’s years-long battle with the Teamsters union in Seattle.
“The world of labor is altering,” reads the letter, which was printed Tuesday and cosigned by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. “At a fundamental stage, everybody ought to have the power to guard themselves and their family members once they’re injured at work, get sick, or when it’s time to retire.”
Setting apart the truth that Uber is one in every of, if not the, most potent technological forces driving these adjustments within the so-called world of labor, the corporate’s curiosity in extending additional assist to gig employees is large — and shocking — information. However the announcement additionally has the potential to deal a deadly blow to one of many nation’s solely promising makes an attempt to provide Uber drivers actual collective bargaining energy by way of a union.
The letter in query, whereas imprecise, loosely outlines how each Uber and different gig economic system corporations may doubtlessly assist gig employees pay for advantages like unemployment insurance coverage or employees’ compensation by jointly paying into a fund that the worker, the opposite platforms they work on, and the federal government additionally contribute to. It doesn’t supply any particular particulars about how such a deal would truly work, and Uber advised BuzzFeed Information it’s extra of a place to begin than an actual coverage proposal.
The controversy, nevertheless, isn’t over what’s or isn’t within the letter, however who signed it.
The Service Staff Worldwide Union’s David Rolf, together with venture capitalist and civic activist Nick Hanauer, have been attempting to advance transportable advantages as a realistic resolution to the gig economic system downside for years. Rolf is the president of an SEIU native in Washington state, which represents dwelling care employees, not drivers. He and Hanauer have been engaged on transportable advantages laws in Washington state since final 12 months, which West Coast representatives for Uber say is when the corporate first turned all in favour of working with them on the coverage.
However labor activists say Rolf’s willingness to work with Uber has created a chance for the corporate to legally enshrine the drivers’ standing as unbiased contractors, not workers, and makes Uber look prepared to work with labor, regardless of its strident marketing campaign towards the Teamsters in Seattle.
“This isn't only a matter of Washington state,” mentioned Hector Figueroa, an govt with an SEIU native in New York. Years of observing Uber’s ways on the bottom have left him cautious of chopping any cope with the corporate. “Washington is opening the door for one thing we consider is dangerous for employees. So we’re going to oppose it, though a sister union is actively concerned.”
Conventional labor organizers like Figueroa need Uber drivers to be categorised as workers, not as unbiased contractors. This could give drivers the safety of minimal wage legal guidelines whereas additionally guaranteeing them sure advantages, like paid sick depart. The organizers’ concern is that, if labor collaborates with Uber on transportable advantages coverage, the laws will cement drivers’ standing as contractors, which might compromise their rights and bargaining energy whereas making Uber look each modern and beneficiant.
In Seattle, Uber has actively fought towards efforts by the Teamsters to prepare drivers. The town of Seattle passed an ordinance in 2015 that allowed employees to prepare and collectively cut price towards trip hail corporations like Lyft and Uber though they weren’t workers. However the legislation, the primary of its type and a coverage innovation, didn’t get these all in favour of unionizing drivers very far.
Whereas Uber fought the Teamsters on the bottom stage, programming an anti-union podcast and providing free pizza to drivers who got here to anti-union conferences, the US Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit and tried to combat the invoice within the courts. Proper now, the invoice is hung up within the ninth Circuit, and the Teamsters, regardless of having received their software to characterize drivers, remains to be ready on an inventory of driver names and get in touch with information that might permit them to start their organizing marketing campaign.
The Teamsters in Seattle mentioned they received no warning concerning the deal between Rolf and Uber in any respect. Rolf’s workplace blamed a miscommunication and mentioned the Teamsters' efforts have his full assist. “We assist the Teamsters efforts in organizing,” he advised BuzzFeed Information. “We've at all times labored nicely along with the Teamster group, and we count on to on this subject as nicely.
However some say that no matter Rolf’s motives could be, his choice advantages Uber with out securing any actual ensures for the drivers.
“Placing a top-down cope with an organization doesn’t substitute organizing. It's not modern. It's a cop out,” mentioned Bhairavi Desai, president of the New York Taxi Staff Alliance, which has fought Uber on behalf of employees because it launched. “There's little question that is meant to provide Uber some form of political cowl.”
The Teamsters mentioned drivers they spoke to have been “excited to listen to that advantages for employees have began to be a part of the dialog at Uber.” However a spokesperson additionally identified that there’s “nothing holding corporations again from providing advantages to employees who want them at the moment,” and that the invoice does nothing to handle different considerations drivers have, like increased pay and extra respect.
The spokesperson mentioned the Teamsters’ organizing efforts in Seattle would proceed, however declined to say whether or not the Teamsters intend to signal on to Uber’s transportable advantages letter.
A consultant for Uber in Seattle mentioned the corporate continues to oppose unionization efforts in Seattle, saying “the notion that the Teamsters are the suitable rep is one I’d problem.”
Whereas Uber has cosigned a letter with Rolf expressing curiosity in exploring the potential of transportable advantages, the corporate has not truly cosigned the proposed laws, which, in its present type, asks for employers to contribute 25% per transaction to the fund, or $6 an hour, whichever is increased.
Rolf mentioned he expects, because the invoice strikes by way of the legislature, there might be a wholesome debate over how a lot cash every social gathering ought to contribute. “The businesses will need to go to low, and the employee advocates will need to have a price that’s equal to a W-2 worker,” he mentioned.
Uber’s letter mentioned the plan is to discover a compromise that addresses “the necessity to promote a rising lifestyle in addition to wholesome, worthwhile companies.”
For Rolf, getting Uber on board with transportable advantages is a coup. Different supporters of the concept, together with Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who has proposed federal transportable advantages laws, tweeted their approval of the deal.
“A variety of different on-demand corporations voiced their assist for these principals two years in the past,” Rolf mentioned. “Uber was beneath totally different management then. They clearly had some reputational points. It appears to me there's possibly a distinct philosophy on the prime of the group now about working with others.”