With all the coverage of California bill AB5, you may be wondering: who is coordinating all these driver protests? Are these organizations really looking out for drivers’ interests? Today, RSG contributor Sergio Avedian will cover these organizations, including unions, what they stand for and who may be best suited to represent the collective voice of all rideshare drivers when the time comes to negotiate with Uber and Lyft.
With technological innovation, millions of people around the country have signed up with one or more gig companies in various segments of the service industry. They include rideshare (Uber and Lyft), food delivery (Uber Eats, Doordash, Caviar, Postmates), shopping (Instacart) and freelance jobs (Fiverr, Taskmates). As per Forbes magazine, more than one third of U.S workers are involved in the gig economy, which works out to a very large number, approximately 57 million people. Some as full timers but mostly as part timers to supplement their income.
Independent contractors are driving millions of people to their destinations, delivering food and taking on many different tasks without any protection from existing labor laws on a daily basis. The gig economy companies have created business plans solely dependent on the IC model. They are not responsible for employment or social security taxes, providing health or retirement benefits, paying for car related expenses such as gas, insurance or maintenance etc., they leave it up to the individual to take care of all the business related costs.
Enter the Politicians and AB5
California took a major step in rewriting the rules of the gig economy. States are losing a lot of revenue by not collecting taxes due to all gig economy workers being labeled IC. The California State Assembly passed AB5 under the leadership of Lorena Gonzalez in May 2019, and in late August, the California Senate is going to vote on this bill that has created a firestorm. Hundreds of thousands of independent contractors in California, ranging from Uber and Amazon drivers to manicurists and exotic dancers, would likely become employees under the bill.
Uber and Lyft are in existence today because they were able to skirt all local, state and federal laws for transportation due to labeling themselves as a technology company. They depend on approximately three million IC (independent contractor) drivers around the globe and about two million in the U.S.
Who should represent the rideshare drivers in CA & Nationwide?
There are several players in the field voicing their opinions and showing support for the rideshare drivers. RDU (Rideshare Drivers United), IDG (Independent Drivers Guild), Gig Workers Rising, Teamsters and SEIU (Service Employees International Union).
There are published reports by the New York Times that Uber and Lyft have been negotiating behind closed doors with certain large unions for a “Sweetheart Deal” in exchange for exemption from AB5. Let the games begin!
RDU (Rideshare Drivers United)
This group started with a handful of drivers in early 2018. Nicole Moore, an active driver and the spokesperson for RDU, during her podcast on RSG, mentioned that they are up to 5000 driver members strong and growing daily.
During the RDU Lyft PPZ protest in downtown Los Angeles, I was able to talk to her at length about their future plans. She came across as a credible advocate for the rideshare drivers around the country. The RDU have formed a twenty person driver committee made up of active drivers who decide how to continue the “good fight” as she calls it. All the members have equal voting power, and they are planning future protests against Uber and Lyft by actively communicating with their members via phone calls, emails and social media.
RDU – Driver’s Bill of Rights
- 10% cap on commission for Uber/Lyft on what passenger pays
- Pay drivers per mile & per minute rate en route to the passenger
- Set hourly minimum pay matching New York City’s $27.86 per hour before expenses
- Include a gas-price indexed surcharge in fare
- Transparent, speedy, independent de-activation appeals process, with all discipline held to “just cause” standard
- Show drivers the estimated fare payment & the trip destination before accepting trip
- Show complete fare breakdown with Uber or Lyft take on passenger receipt
A Voice on the Job
- Uber & Lyft recognition of our independent, driver-led organization, to negotiate on behalf of drivers
- The right to organize without retaliation
- An elected driver-representative appointed to Uber & Lyft boards of directors
- Rideshare vehicle cap to eliminate unnecessary traffic & carbon emissions
- Emission standards for all new vehicles added to the platforms
- Uber & Lyft must share all vehicle data with local authorities for traffic management
The Independent Drivers Guild is a Machinists Union affiliate that represents over 65,000 For-Hire Vehicle drivers in New York City. The IDG is the first nonprofit labor organization to negotiate a seat at the table with a rideshare company and the first to offer crucial new protections and essential benefits while building worker power. They stood in solidarity with RDU during the May 8, 2019 strike.
Their mission statement:
“Together we are a powerful force to win driver-friendly policies. Together we have contact with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers daily. Together we are a service that generates millions of dollars. With driver activism and solidarity we will win—and can drive with dignity. We believe that the power of a union is workers banding together. With the Guild, we can band together and win better working conditions and increase working drivers’ earnings now. If you’re a working driver in NYC, become a voting member, join a committee and let’s get organizing.”
They were able to convince TLC of New York to enforce caps on the driver count for rideshare companies as well as establish a minimum wage of $27.86 before expenses for the drivers. A wonderful accomplishment.
Take a listen to an interview Harry had with Ryan Price, the Executive Director of the IDG.
Mission Statement: “Gig Workers Rising is a community of app and platform workers coming together to improve our work and livelihoods. We are care workers with Sittercity or Care.com, drivers with Uber or Lyft, do jack-of-all-trades work through TaskRabbit or Handy, and do on-demand deliveries with DoorDash, Instacart or GrubHub.
Tech companies are making millions off of our work — while we get crumbs. Now is the time for gig workers to take control of our livelihoods. We are united across platforms because we believe that care workers, couriers, handy people and drivers are powerful when they are together. Join us! Let’s build a movement of gig workers.”
They are the new kid on the block, however they encompass the totality of gig workers not just drivers.
Founded in 1903, the Teamsters mission is to organize and educate workers towards a higher standard of living. There are currently 1.4 million members under 21 Industrial Divisions that include practically every occupation imaginable, both professional and non professional, private sector and public sector.
The Teamsters Union announced that it stands in solidarity with thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers who are taking action in protests around the globe to demand fair pay and working conditions. The Teamsters have worked for years with Uber and Lyft drivers seeking living wages, healthcare, due process, greater transparency and the right to organize.
“The 1.4 million members of the Teamsters Union stand with our brothers and sisters who are rising up to demand justice and an end to income inequality. These protests remind the world that while there are tech companies valued at billions of dollars, those same companies have drivers who are struggling to get by,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President. “We stand in solidarity with drivers at Uber and Lyft who have a right to be paid fairly and have dignified working conditions.”
Teamsters across the country joined the drivers in protest. In Northern California, Teamsters Joint Council 7 and SEIU are partners in Gig Workers Rising, which led the demonstration outside Uber headquarters in San Francisco. Teamsters Local 117 joined drivers at an event to speak out on their working conditions in Seattle.
The Service Employees International Union, an organization of 2-million members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers, and the services they provide. They are dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society. They certainly are qualified to represent 2-3 million drivers and would love to collect member dues from Uber & Lyft drivers. I am just concerned that SEIU is entrenched in industries unrelated to the new gig economy.
Lyft and Uber reportedly have been meeting with SEIU to support an amendment to exempt them from complying with AB5, which is headed to the California Senate for a vote at the end of the summer. In exchange, Uber and Lyft executives said they would give drivers some benefits and would pay a union to advocate for drivers. Labor leaders at SEIU disputed reports of a backroom deal, telling the Times that the union supports AB5 and full employee status for drivers.
My Personal Take
Over the past six years since Uber X was introduced on July 4, 2012, the mileage rates drivers get paid has been slashed multiple times, from $3.25/mile to now 60 cents a mile in Los Angeles. Since their IPOs, quests and consecutive streak bonuses have been reduced to laughable levels. Power zones on Uber and PT (Prime Time) on Lyft has been replaced with PPZ (Personal Power Zones). How much blood is left to squeeze out of the rock (drivers) that built these companies? When will the mistreatment and abuse of the driver end?
This is the time to stand up for our rights, stand united. AB5 may give drivers one and only chance to get lasting concessions from Uber and Lyft. However, we must choose an experienced team of professionals who truly understand the demands of the driver and get them what they deserve. Will it be an established union like Teamsters or SEIU or will it be an upstart created by drivers for drivers rights? It would be best not to go to a gunfight with a knife but let’s use AB5 as our bazooka and teach Uber and Lyft a lesson once and for all.
Readers, which organization do you think is best equipped to represent drivers? One of the above organizations, or none at all?
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-Sergio @ RSG