If Employees, Uber Drivers Could Organize into a Union

Uber has become a household name. The latest controversy with Uber is determining whether its drivers are employees or independent contractors. A California labor commissioner has ruled that an Uber driver was an employee, and Uber must reimburse the employee roughly $4,000 for bridge tolls, mileage, and other expenses incurred while working as an Uber driver. The implications of Uber drivers being employees are significant, such that companies may need to begin granting health insurance and minimum wage to these drivers – items that are not required for independent contractors.

So what does this have to do with unions? If Uber drivers are employees, they can unionize. It appears that Uber drivers may have already begun the process toward unionizing. In 2004, the California App-Based Drivers Association was established, and this group recently met with the Teamsters Local 986 in California.

Uber drivers unionizing would be yet another example of unions expanding into a new industry, albeit perhaps a short-lived industry. Uber has grown so quickly because of its low overhead, which is passed on to passengers through low fares. If Uber drivers unionize, they will no longer be distinguishable from union-dominated taxis services and their rates will surely increase. There is already a taxi industry; how long will there be a ride-share industry?

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.