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Uber Drivers Unite in New York

May 2, 2016, 12:40 PM UTC
An Uber driver navigates the streets of Brooklyn?s Crown Heights neighborhood.
FILE ? An Uber driver navigates the streets of Brooklyn?s Crown Heights neighborhood, in New York, Jan. 30, 2015. Facing overwhelming demand from institutional investors, Uber has expended its latest round of venture financing from $1.8 to $2.8 billion, a move that now gives the company a valuation of around $40 billion. (Sam Hodgson/The New York Times)
Photograph by Sam Hodgson — The New York Times/Redux

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Well, that didn’t take long. More than 1,000 Uber drivers are banding together in New York—the birthplace of the organized U.S. labor movement—to create an association that can represent their collective interests to the ride-sharing company’s management.

The move comes less than two weeks after Uber trumpeted a $100 million proposed settlement with disgruntled contractors in California and Massachusetts who are seeking compensation for certain expenses. Under the agreement, which many describe as a sweetheart deal for the highly valued ride-sharing company, Uber drivers still aren’t considered employees. However Uber did make a key concession in the proposal: It will allow drivers to create “associations” that can address collective gripes.

The New York group is called the Amalgamated Local of Livery Employees in Solidarity (aka Alles). Technically speaking, this is not a union, because the National Labor Relation Board won’t allow that. That means the group won’t officially have any control over fares. The only U.S. city where Uber and Lyft drivers have won that right is in Seattle. Instead, Alles is making “security and protection” its cause celebre, fighting against issues such as overly long work hours, according to a statement issued by the organizers. (Uber recently limited the shifts that New York City drivers can handle to 12 hours.)



How much influence will this group really have?

At last count, there are an estimated 30,000 drivers in New York City alone, so the group represents just a small fraction of those displaying the logo. Still, Alles could provide drivers with a powerful communications tool for shaping how the general public feels about a service that has become wildly popular in certain cities.

Just ask Verizon, which faces boycotts of its wireless services even though most of the 40,000 workers that walked off the job three weeks ago represent its landline and Internet services. So, even though Uber drivers can’t technically bargain over what they’re paid, they can sure make things look bad for the company. The company is actually celebrating its fifth “birthday” in New York this week. As of last September, there were more than 1 million active riders there.

One thing to remember: Uber’s proposed settlement must still be approved by a federal judge in San Francisco. Given how critical many drivers have been over the arrangement, there’s a real chance that the proposal won’t stand. Meanwhile, it’s probably in Uber’s interest to appear as open-minded as possible.