Uber Drivers Begin To Unionize

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Does the Uber advertisement gal at the top of this story strike you as a typical union member?  She could soon be a Teamster.uber gal 1k jpegIn Seattle, Uber drivers are working with Teamsters Local 117 to become part of a union.  A bill passed this week by Seattle’s City Council is the first step in making this happen.  Of course, there is no such thing as a “typical union look.”  Growing up in my union household my dad’s union co-workers from the gear plant came to visit on Harleys and had interesting jackets with cool wing logos on the back.  Things have changed in America.  Your kid’s teacher is more likely to be a union member than an auto worker.  Much more likely.  So why are Uber drivers, who we are told love to work for themselves and love the freedom of making money their own way, considering a union effort?

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Peter Kuel, an Uber driver and member of the leadership council of the App-Based Drivers Association, said, “By giving us rights, this law will help all of the drivers and also help our communities.”  Peter has a view of what being an Uber driver is that seems to differ from what many of us might imagine it to be.  For example, do you think of Uber driving as a full-time job intended to support a family?  Maybe you should.  Mr. Kuel says that “Since I started driving for Uber, Uber has cut our pay without notice, terminated drivers without giving a reason and blocked our efforts to improve our working conditions. We’re looking for fairness and the ability to earn a living wage.”

That living wage part is the tricky bit.  By definition, the folks that throw the term around intend it to be the amount of money one must earn to support a family in their community.  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an algorithm that can help you to calculate the “Living Wage” in your community.  Just for grins and giggles I ran it for my rural New England town and the MIT page says I should be earning $31.93.   I can tell you without hesitation that every writer I know would take that deal.  That’s $67K per year.  Is that what you image an Uber driver earns running you from place to place?  In Seattle the wage for a single person supporting two kids would be about $28 per hour.  As independent contractors, Uber drivers are not required to be paid the $15 per hour minimum wage in Seattle.  A Business Insider story found that Uber drivers in some places make a lot more than one might guess if they hustle and have 100% occupancy.

Here is the fun part.  The taxi drivers and other for-hire drivers are all planning to join the new Seattle union being organized by the Teamsters 117.  Aamar Kahn, who drives a taxi for Yellow Cab said in a recent press release by the organizers, “As a cab driver, making a living has become really hard.  All we are asking for is a level playing field and that can’t happen until drivers have the right to speak up.”  The last time we checked taxi drivers (or should we say owners) and Uber drivers were not brothers in a mutual struggle.  Things change.  Like all good movements, this one doesn’t plan to remain local either.  Fasil Teka of the App-Based Drivers Association says, “This bill means a lot to us drivers.  It can have a positive impact, not just for drivers in Seattle, but for independent contractors across the country.”