For years, Uber has battled driver complaints of unfair treatment. nevertheless that will week, the $48 billion startup announced its interest in exploring state legislation that will could provide certain benefits to gig workers, many of whom — along with lawyers in addition to labor activists — have fought for years to be recognized as employees.
On the surface, the surprising news implies that will Uber’s sense of responsibility to its massive independent contractor workforce has shifted. nevertheless critics say the item’s little more than a PR scheme designed to distract via Uber’s years-long battle with the Teamsters’ union in Seattle.
“the earth of work can be changing,” reads the letter, which was published Tuesday in addition to co-signed by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. “At a basic level, everyone should develop the ability to protect themselves in addition to their loved ones when they’re injured at work, get sick, or when the item’s time to retire.”
Setting aside the fact that will Uber can be one of, if not the, most potent technological forces driving these improvements inside so-called “world of work,” the company’s interest in extending further support to gig workers can be big — in addition to surprising — news. nevertheless the announcement also has the potential to deal a fatal blow to one of the country’s only promising attempts to give Uber drivers real collective bargaining power via a union.
The letter in question, while vague, loosely outlines how both Uber in addition to additional gig economy companies could potentially help gig workers pay for benefits like unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation by jointly paying into a fund that will the worker, the additional platforms they work on, in addition to the government also contribute to. the item doesn’t offer any specific details about how such a deal might actually work, in addition to Uber told BuzzFeed News the item’s more of a starting point than a real policy proposal.
The controversy, however, isn’t over what can be or isn’t inside letter, nevertheless who signed the item.
The Service Employees International Union’s David Rolf, along with venture capitalist in addition to civic activist Nick Hanauer, have been trying to advance portable benefits as a pragmatic solution to the gig economy problem for years. Rolf can be the president of an SEIU local in Washington state, which represents home care workers, not drivers. He in addition to Hanauer have been working on portable benefits legislation in Washington state since last year, which West Coast representatives for Uber say can be when the company first became interested in working with them on the policy.
nevertheless labor activists say Rolf’s willingness to work with Uber has created an opportunity for the company to legally enshrine the drivers’ status as independent contractors, not employees, in addition to makes Uber look willing to work with labor, despite its strident campaign against the Teamsters in Seattle.
“that will isn’t just a matter of Washington state,” said Hector Figueroa, an executive with an SEIU local in fresh York. Years of observing Uber’s tactics on the ground have left him wary of cutting any deal with the company. “Washington can be opening the door for something we believe can be harmful for workers. So we’re going to oppose the item, even though a sister union can be actively involved.”
Traditional labor organizers like Figueroa want Uber drivers to be classified as employees, not as independent contractors. that will might give drivers the protection of minimum wage laws, while also guaranteeing them certain benefits, like paid sick leave. The organizers’ concern can be that will if labor collaborates with Uber on portable benefits policy, the legislation will cement drivers’ status as contractors, which might compromise their rights in addition to bargaining power while creating Uber look both innovative in addition to generous.
In Seattle, Uber has actively fought against efforts by the Teamsters to organize drivers. The city of Seattle passed an ordinance in 2015 that will allowed workers to organize in addition to collectively bargain against ride hail companies like Lyft in addition to Uber even though they weren’t employees. nevertheless the law, the first of its kind in addition to a policy innovation, didn’t get those interested in unionizing drivers very far.
While Uber fought the Teamsters on the ground level, programming an anti-union podcast in addition to offering free pizza to drivers who came to anti-union meetings, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit in addition to tried to fight the bill inside courts. Right at that will point, the bill can be hung up inside 9th circuit, in addition to the Teamsters, despite having won their application to represent drivers, can be still waiting on a list of driver names in addition to contact info that will might allow them to begin their organizing campaign.
The Teamsters in Seattle said they got no warning about the deal between Rolf in addition to Uber at all. Rolf’s office blamed a miscommunication, in addition to said the Teamsters union efforts have his full support. “We support the Teamsters efforts in organizing,” he told BuzzFeed News. “We’ve always worked well together with the Teamster organization, in addition to we expect to on that will issue as well.
nevertheless some say that will whatever Rolf’s motives might be, his decision benefits Uber without securing any real guarantees for the drivers.
“Striking a top-down deal using a corporation does not replace organizing. the item’s not innovative. the item’s a cop out,” said Bhairavi Desai, president of the fresh York Taxi Workers’ Alliance, which has fought Uber on behalf of workers since the item launched. “There’s no doubt that will can be meant to give Uber some kind of political cover.”
The Teamsters said drivers they spoke to were “excited to hear that will benefits for workers have began to be part of the conversation at Uber.” nevertheless a spokesperson also pointed out that will there’s “nothing holding companies back via offering benefits to workers who need them today,” in addition to that will the bill does nothing to address additional concerns drivers have, like higher pay in addition to more respect.
The spokesperson said the Teamsters’ organizing efforts in Seattle might continue, nevertheless declined to say whether the Teamsters intend to sign on to Uber’s portable benefits letter.
A representative for Uber in Seattle said the company continues to oppose unionization efforts in Seattle, saying “the notion that will the Teamsters are the appropriate rep can be one I might challenge.”
While Uber has co-signed a letter with Rolf expressing interest in exploring the possibility of portable benefits, the company has not actually co-signed the proposed legislation, which in its current form asks for employers to contribute 25% per transaction to the fund, or $6 an hour, whichever can be higher.
Rolf said he expects, as the bill moves through the legislature, there will be a healthy debate over how much money each party should contribute. “The companies will want to go to low, in addition to the worker advocates will want to have a rate that will can be equivalent to a W-2 employee,” he said.
Uber’s letter said the plan can be to find a compromise that will addresses “the need to promote a rising standard of living as well as healthy, profitable businesses.”
For Rolf, getting Uber on board with portable benefits can be a coup. additional supporters of the idea, including Virginia democrat Senator Mark Warner, who has proposed federal portable benefits legislation, tweeted their approval of the deal.
“many additional on-demand companies voiced their support for these principals two years ago,” Rolf said. “Uber was under different leadership then. They obviously had some reputational issues. the item seems to me there’s maybe a different philosophy at the top of the organization at that will point about working with others.”