Standing with Uber Drivers to Form an Association

May 17, 2016 -- Jamie Way

Uber has faced a great deal of criticism over the treatment of its drivers, whom the company considers independent contractors. It is currently facing a class-action lawsuit over drivers’ employment status in California and Massachusetts. On June 2nd, the court will decide whether to honor a proposed $100M settlement. Among the changes outlined in the agreement, Uber would commit to recognizing a drivers’ association. Affiliate Working Partnerships USA, through its coalition Silicon Valley Rising, is partnering with Teamsters Joint Council 7 to support drivers who want to launch and organize the association.

“This is a watershed moment for Uber drivers,” said Derecka Mehrens, Executive Director of Working Partnerships USA, which cofounded Silicon Valley Rising. “Through a drivers’ association, they will have a means of coming together to address issues they have at work. That will fundamentally transform drivers' experience.”

Uber drivers around the country are self-organizing and have even held multiple strikes. Silicon Valley Rising and the Teamsters hope to throw their institutional resources and power behind those driver-led efforts. A drivers’ association would give drivers a path toward disputing issues, hours and safety requirements, benefits, legal assistance, and training normally afforded to traditional union members.

Silicon Valley Rising has successfully engaged the tech industry around the issue of precarious work and won substantive gains for working people. As a result of the coalition’s efforts, Apple and Google ended their contracts with a low-road security firm and raised job standards for the security officers, while shuttle bus drivers serving companies including Apple, Google, eBay, PayPal and Yahoo have gained union representation. Extending those gains to the on-demand economy is the next step in addressing precarious work in tech.

While the proposed Uber settlement falls far short of addressing many drivers’ concerns, Uber’s recognition of a drivers’ association could be an important step toward creating a fair and safe work environment for drivers, while giving them a collective voice on the job.