Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

 Jim Conigliaro Jr., founder of the Independent Driver’s Guild, echoed that statement. 

“Workers can’t count on the court system to support them. Drivers have to organize to force common sense legislation for fair wages, benefits and representation regardless of classification,” Conigliaro told Bloomberg Law.

Groups nationwide have already been developing to combat these exclusions. In early May, rideshare drivers went on strike nationwide. A driver for both Uber and Lyft, Kathrine Federova, has been on strike three times now as a member of the Chicago Rideshare Advocates. As explained by In These Times, Chicago Rideshare Advocates, a worker-run group organized primary through social media, has organized a handful of labor actions in recent years, and first began planning the May 8 strike in coordination with a similar group in Los Angeles.”

Rideshare drivers already grapple with declining fees, unpredictable surge prices and deactivations, and this decision only makes it harder for them to advocate for better working conditions. However, despite the unfortunate news from the NLRB that struck rideshare employees on May 14, it’s clear that these groups intend to continue to unite forces to act against the unjust situations they confront. 

When speaking about the strikes that have been occurring, Desai said, “We’re sending a message that drivers need to come first.” It’s imperative that the NLRB hears that message.

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Posted In: Union Matters, Union Matters

Union Matters

An Invitation to Sunny Miami. What Could Be Bad?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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