Drivers, advocates aim to hold ride-sharing industries accountable

Stephon Johnson | 10/24/2019, 2:02 p.m.
Drivers of ride-sharing businesses want to unionize and organizations want the law to take them to task.
Customer riding Uber YouTube

Drivers of ride-sharing businesses want to unionize and organizations want the law to take them to task.

The Independent Drivers Guild, which represents and advocates for New York’s ride-hail drivers, called on New York State to pass legislation giving drivers the right to unionize and the ability to collectively bargain.

“Our labor laws are broken and New York must act to give workers an easier path to representation,” stated IDG executive director and labor organizer Brendan Sexton. “If New York passes a right to bargain law, we will be blazing a trail for growing our unionized workforce with the largest organizing gains in decades. We can empower 120,000 ride-hail drivers to get the representation they so desperately want. Only by empowering workers to forge their own agenda can we truly ensure that workers are treated fairly.”

Sexton testified before the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Internet and Technology asking the state legislature to help them further secure the improvements and benefits they’ve gotten so far.

Sexton asked the state legislature to do something he feels that current occupants in the White House won’t do.

“The Trump National Labor Relations Board ruled that Uber drivers are not employees eligible to unionize under federal law,” said Sexton. “A state law reclassifying drivers as employees would not reverse that and would leave drivers in a strange legal purgatory, unable to unionize and with legal challenges continuing to stretch on for years,” said Sexton. “Our members can’t wait years, our members are struggling right now. New York has an opportunity to give drivers the right to unionize right now and we urge you to be bold and do just that. Don’t stick drivers in a legal purgatory, give us the right to collective bargaining. Let us unionize.”

Only 6 percent of private sector workers are represented by a union and over 85 percent of workers want to belong to a union according to a poll done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Among New York’s ride-sharing drivers, 95 percent of drivers want to unionize.

A Lyft spokesperson told the AmNews that the company's committed to working with elected officials to ensure the best outcome for drivers.

“Lyft is committed to working with legislators to help shape policies in New York that puts the needs of drivers first by preserving the economic opportunity, unique flexibility and reliable service that people have come to expect from Lyft," said the spokesperson in a statement. "We remain committed to working with the Governor and the Legislature to build a system that works for all New Yorkers today and for decades to come.” Earlier this month, Uber and Lyft drivers with the IDG protested outside of Uber, Lyft and the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission offices in Long Island City, Queens. The drivers were angry that Lyft and Uber blocked them from working in response to new city rules and called on the city to pass the Guild’s Drivers’ Bill of Rights."

Recently, California’s state government passed a bill that made workers of app-based companies like Lyft and Uber full employees.

But it’s not just New York drivers who want ride-sharing industries to straighten up and fly right. A new report released by a coalition of 33 unions showed that the business model that has led Uber and Lyft to prominence is based on exploitation of workers and the undermining of public transportation.

The report, by the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, showed that many ride-sharing drivers make less than the minimum wage of the cities they work in while federal funding for public transportation comes with strong labor protection attached. The report also found that the ride-hailing industry added 6 billion miles of driving annually to nine large cities in the country with much of that driving not including a passenger in a vehicle.

“We welcome opportunities to work with any partners who advocate for innovation in public transportation services, but we expect those partners to subscribe to the promises that public transportation be equitable, accessible to all, affordable, safe and reliable,” stated TTD President Larry Willis. “We cannot stop Wall Street investors from pouring billions into these failing companies, but lawmakers can ensure the ride-hailing industry is not permitted to prey on public transportation and fleece the taxpayer.”