Uber and the unions representing drivers have been at odds for years. But today the ride-hailing giant announced it has struck a five-year deal with the Independent Drivers Guild — one of the more high-profile organized labor groups, representing 35,000 drivers across New York City. Guild members will now get monthly meetings with Uber management and discounts on legal services and some types of insurance. The change, however, stops short of full unionization. Drivers won't be able to unite to gain leverage during contract negotiations over things like fares, health care, and workplace protections.
Uber treats its drivers as contract workers, not employees — a designation that has been challenged in courts across the US. Uber settled some of those cases recently, agreeing to pay $100 million and facilitate the creation of driver's associations like the one announced today in New York. James Conigliaro Jr., founder of the Driver's Guild, told The New York Times that if drivers were to be recognized as employees by law, his group would work with drivers who want to form a more full-fledged union.
The Seattle City Council recently passed a bill allowing drivers to organize, and a similar measure has been drafted in California. Drivers have been working to organize through groups like ALLES, and have also banded together to create competing apps, although none have so far found traction on the scale of Uber or Lyft. Uber has a $10 billion war chest and claims it will soon be profitable in the US. At that scale, it can afford to hunker down for a protracted back and forth with its laborers, all the while working on autonomous driving technology that would render the question of unions moot.