Uber Agrees to Work With a Drivers Guild in New York City

Photo: Associated Press

After tangling with drivers in the courtroom and on the streets, Uber Technologies Inc. is softening its stance and giving some of them a seat at the table.

The largest ride-hailing company on Tuesday said it has agreed to work closely with a group of its drivers in New York City to give them a voice on issues such as fare changes and driver deactivations.

The drivers group plans to pool funds to offer benefits such as paid time off and retirement savings accounts to as many as 35,000 drivers in the city, many who work full-time schedules for Uber.

The labor agreement is a conciliatory move for Uber, which has been working in recent weeks to quell unrest rippling across its army of one million drivers. Hundreds of drivers gathered at the company’s New York offices in February to protest rate reductions that have made it harder for many of them to rely on Uber as a primary source of income.

Uber last month agreed to settle two closely watched class-action labor disputes covering 385,000 drivers in California and Massachusetts. Under the terms of that settlement, which now awaits a judge’s approval, Uber agreed to pay up to $ 100 million to the drivers involved and to revise its practice of deactivating them from the popular app without much warning or recourse.

In New York City, the company agreed to support the formation of an Independent Drivers Guild after months of discussions with the International Association of Machinists, a labor union that represents drivers for so-called black-car services in the city and has pushed to increase their benefits.

The guild, however, won’t act such as a union, as there is no ability for drivers to collectively bargain for better rates or other changes to the ride-hailing app. As independent contractors, Uber drivers are barred from forming unions in most places.

Drivers for ride-hailing services around the country have pushed for legal reforms that would open the door to driver unions. Seattle’s city council in December approved legislation allowing drivers of ride-hailing services to unionize, the first time a U.S. city has authorized unions for ride-hailing drivers. It is unclear if the ordinance will hold up against expected legal challenges.

Uber and Lyft say federal law prohibits independent contractors from collective bargaining.

No topic is off the table for discussion, and the guild will aggressively pursue any number of ways to increase drivers earnings, benefits and protections.

Jim Conigliaro Jr., founder of the Independent Drivers Guild

New York’s Independent Drivers Guild may represent a first step toward giving drivers a voice in the ride-hailing business. Its members will be invited to regular meetings with Uber management to raise their concerns. And they will be eligible to receive discounts on life insurance, roadside assistance and other benefits covered by the guild’s administration costs, which Uber will help to fund.

“No topic is off the table for discussion, and the guild will aggressively pursue any number of ways to increase drivers earnings, benefits and protections,” said Jim Conigliaro Jr., founder of the Independent Drivers Guild.

Uber and the guild also plan to work together to lobby for the removal of a tax that applies to black cars in New York but not yellow taxis.

Write to Douglas MacMillan at [email protected]

WSJ.com: US Business

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