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Uber drivers in New York can't unionize, but some are forming a labor group

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New York Uber ALLES

A group of 1,000 Uber drivers in New York are forming a "solidarity organization" in the hopes that power in numbers will increase their chances of higher wages and better treatment from the ride-hail company. The group, which is called the Amalgamated Local Livery Drivers in Solidarity — or ALLES — will not be a union in the traditional sense. It will not have the power to collectively bargain, for example. But organizers say the group will give drivers the chance to have their voices heard as Uber seeks to expand into communities in Upstate New York. The news of the group was first reported by Gothamist.

ALLES (which when combined with Uber translates from German as "above all"), is one of the first groups to emerge, since Uber announced its intention to settle two high-profile class action lawsuits brought against the company by thousands of drivers in California and Massachusetts. As part of the settlement, Uber agreed to facilitate the creation of driver associations, which will have elected leaders who will be able to bring drivers' concerns to Uber management. Uber also agreed to pay up to $100 million to settle the lawsuit.

Drivers will not be reclassified as employees under the settlement, though, which was the pie-in-the-sky goal for many involved in the lawsuit. They will stay independent contractors, which prevents them from unionizing. Seattle's city council recently passed a law allowing ride-hail service drivers to unionize, and California's state assembly is considering a similar measure.

New York has been a locus of much driver discontent since Uber announced it was lowering its fares by 15 percent last January. Drivers protested outside the company's offices in Queens, and tried unsuccessfully to arrange boycotts and strikes. They even launched their own competing app. Many were involved in a group called the Uber Drivers Network, which occasionally met with Uber's management, but was mostly antagonistic toward the company.

In contrast, ALLES appears to be striving for a more professional position. Kevin Lynch, the main organizer, helped organize livery drivers in New York in the 1990s. "It won't be a union, but it could be a self-help organization," he told Gothamist. "If we band together we can keep them [the drivers] from getting picked on, and get the City and State to regulate them."

In a statement, Uber says it "allows drivers to control where and when they work, earning money on their own terms, while offering riders in every corner of the city the ability to get an affordable, reliable ride. Of course there's always more we can do-- and we are always happy to talk with drivers about what they'd like to see next."