|New York City Uber drivers are taking their fight for dignity to the one place they know they can find help – the union.|
In the mid-90s, when New York City Black Car drivers – deemed “independent contractors” and thus not eligible for traditional employee protections – were looking for a voice on the job, they turned to IAM District 15 to win the right to unionize and collectively bargain.
Now New York City drivers for Uber, the quickly expanding app-based ride sharing service, are actively seeking to organize with the IAM themselves. Many are former Black Car drivers who now drive for Uber, which has reportedly taken 70 percent of Black Car business, says James Conigliaro, Jr., Assistant Directing Business Representative and General Counsel for District 15.
They’ve rallied around the slogan, “drive with dignity.”
“You see this fight everywhere. With the fight for $15 movement – this isn’t much different from that,” Conigliaro told the New York LaborPress. “[Driver] wages, instead of going up, have been cut. We have to gather together as a labor movement to get around this [new] economy. This ‘gig economy’ or ‘share economy’ is just a way for employers to avoid paying.”
Uber’s fare cuts, which have left many drivers earning below minimum wage, have set off a rash of protests from New York to Paris in recent weeks. Uber drivers in San Francisco plan to protest outside this weekend’s Super Bowl.
“They call us partners,” said Tsering Sherpa, an Uber driver in Queens who says he now works 10 to 14 hours six days a week to pay for rent and car payments. “But they’re treating us like slaves.”
District 15 is seeking either collective bargaining recognition through the National Labor Relations Board or legislation similar to Seattle’s, which allows Uber drivers to choose an association to bargain on their behalf.
“We can’t let this [new] economy fly by us and change how our job market works,” said Conigliaro. “We have to grab it and get in front of it – no matter what setbacks we might have to endure.”