Uber drivers demanded the right to organize, and the on-demand economy delivered—at least, that’s what happened according to Uber. Rather than a union, the ride-sharing mega-corporation has been creating representative “associations” for drivers, supposedly to give them a democratic collective voice. But drivers are at the same time fighting in court for the right to hold the company accountable before the law.
The driver’s association framework emerged in April, out of a proposed legal settlement of a massive lawsuit in involving drivers in California and Massachusetts that could curb future legal challenges to Uber’s business model. If approved, the $100 million settlement would largely preserve a highly controversial arbitration clause that could keep future labor disputes out of court. The proposed settlement, however, hangs in limbo following the recent decisions by two federal judges to defer rulings in suits brought by drivers of Uber and rival app Lyft.
According to Uber’s press release, the drivers’ associations would provide a collective platform for drivers to voice their concerns directly to management four times a year. Uber emphasizes that the associations would definitely not provide formal collective-bargaining rights, so, unlike a union, drivers would have no direct say in negotiating working conditions under federal labor laws. (In fact, that would be illegal, since the National Labor Relations Act prohibits companies from controlling labor organizations as so-called “company unions,” as The Huffington Post reports.) Uber continues to insist that its drivers are not employees as defined by the NLRA, but rather independent contractors, though drivers have brought numerous legal challenges over their classification as non-employees.
Uber’s drivers’ association framework arrives just in time to provide some semblance of intra-company democracy as it rolls out a new policy on driver “deactivativations,” which are essentially the equivalent of firing drivers. “Deactivation” has become one of the most contentious issues for drivers who have found themselves suddenly out of work because of an opaque, seemingly arbitrary decision by their non-boss.