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Uber's Union Busting Playbook

Uber releases a podcast to stop a union effort in Seattle, as Lyft drivers at Disney win the right to organize

Brian Young's picture
May 15, 2018

The ridesharing company, Uber, has spent the better part of a year fighting against their employees organizing. They have argued before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that the drivers are independent contractors and have spent big bucks on podcasts and ads pushing back against the union effort. Still, the campaign led by the Teamsters has persisted, fueled by a recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and a 2015 city ordinance in Seattle.

Ever since ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft began changing the market, complaints about low wages have persisted from drivers. While unions like the Teamsters began talking to and organizing drivers, the companies pushed back arguing that they were independent contractors and not actual employees of the company. Then in late 2015, Seattle passed a city ordinance that declared all ride-sharing drivers as employees of the company. Since then, Teamsters Local 117 has been working to organize the Uber drivers. On March 3rd, they gained enough support to file for a union election. Uber now has to turn over information on all Seattle drivers who joined the company before October 20th, 2016 and have taken at least 52 rides in past three months.

However, Uber isn’t taking this organizing drive lying down. Over the last year, they have aggressively fought back, putting out 18 episodes of a podcast warning drivers about joining the union. They have also begun delivering anti-union ads to drivers through the app.

Uber drivers aren’t the only ones organizing. At Walt Disney World, 60 Lyft drivers have been organizing with a Teamsters Local. These drivers use the Lyft app to pick up rides, but they drive official looking “Minnie” vans. In this case, Lyft was not the only company arguing against the union effort, but Disney was as well. They argued that since the drivers were not included in the 2014 contract with the five unions that make up the Services Trades Council at Disney, they were ineligible for representation. The case made its way to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which ruled that since the job didn’t exist in 2014, they were exempt and could, in fact, be represented.

What happened at Disney is the crux of what local governments, companies and the NLRB will need to decide in the coming years. As work changes based on technology, so to do the laws that govern it. More and more people are being classified as independent contractors every day, but labor law has failed to keep up with this change. The organizing of tens of thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers might just change that.


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