Uber’s Deal with NYC Union Bides Time Before Union Organizing Commences

Uber probably just considers this the cost of doing business in NYC.

Uber drivers have expressed frustration over the appeal process for deactivated accounts. Now, with assistance provided by the International Association of Machinists union (IAM), the 40,000 Uber drivers in New York City can take their cases to arbitration with a group called the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) which Uber funds.

The drivers did not vote for the IDG nor does IDG represent them in collective bargaining, and the drivers pay no dues to the organization. Additionally, the IDG has agreed that it will not attempt to organize drivers while the current agreement is in place (until 2021) nor attempt to get the drivers to reclassify as employees (Uber classifies them as independent contractors).

Hold on. First, this appears to only stop the IAM from trying to organize Uber drivers. Perhaps the agreement extends to all members of the AFL-CIO. But big name unions like the Teamsters, Steelworkers, UAW, and SEIU are not part of the AFL-CIO. Could the costs associated with the IDG be for naught if one of the other unions successfully organized a micro-unit of drivers?

Secondly, despite agreeing to not organize the drivers until 2021 (unless another, probably more union-friendly agreement is inked) the IAM actually has a 5-year head start in organizing. It’s the IAM who negotiated the for the IDG. It’s the IAM who negotiated that Uber fully funds the program. It’s the IAM who negotiate that drivers have a right to arbitration if they are dissatisfied with the deactivation of their accounts.

Thirdly, this may be end up being a bad business deal for the IAM, much like the Fight for $15 campaigns have been for other unions. Both organizing philosophies rest on the notion that the union can achieve for workers what workers cannot achieve without the union. But in the end, workers are not willing to join the union or pay the union for its achievements. Fight for $15 has not generated unionized workers in the fast food industry despite spending hundreds of millions of dues-dollars. Post 2021 will Uber workers want to join the IAM and pay membership dues for what they are currently getting for free? We’ll have to wait and see. But the adage, why by the cow when the milk is free seems appropriate at this time.

Matt Austin who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.