Readings — From the August 2017 issue

Wheel and Deal

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From a series of podcasts that Uber, the ride-hailing platform, created last year for its drivers in Seattle. In 2015, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance granting Uber drivers the right to unionize. Brooke Steger is a general manager at Uber. Charles is introduced on the podcast as an Uber driver.

charles: I have a question. I’m just really wondering: The Uber platform works really well for me and other drivers. Why would the city council have passed such an ordinance?

brooke steger: I wish I knew the exact answer. Essentially, the ordinance will allow drivers to be represented by labor unions, even though the National Labor Relations Act prohibits independent contractors from forming a union. We find that to be really odd. I think this is the first council ever to pass this kind of legislation. It was inventive.

charles: Wow! You’re saying that it is against the law for entrepreneurs to be pushed into the union?

steger: I’m not a lawyer, but the National Labor Relations Act, which governs all relationships between employers and employees under collective bargaining, does not allow independent contractors, because they’re not employees, to collectively bargain. Because you’re an entrepreneur, because you’re running your own business, because you’re setting your own hours — none of those things really shift into the current labor-employee model. It is illegal in the United States for independent contractors to collectively bargain, but the council decided to pass the ordinance anyway.

charles: Why do the Teamsters want to represent Uber drivers, who are entrepreneurs? We own our own businesses. We’re not employees. From what I’ve read, and you can tell me whether I’m right or wrong, it totally takes away from what the platform is all about. We can turn on the app when we want to turn on the app. We can drive through Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, wherever we want to get rides, and if it’s going to tell us who can drive, what happens to the other thousands of drivers who can’t drive?

steger: It’s extremely concerning. We definitely want to remind drivers that unions could be presenting you with the ability to sign a card as soon as today. Before you sign anything, know what you’re getting into, because this could have ramifications where your flexibility is taken away, the amount of hours that you’re on the road is modified, or where and when you drive is controlled. We’re afraid of what the outcome of this ordinance could be, because we don’t want to become a taxi company.

charles: Do you think that Uber will stay, given such an ordinance, or do like they did in other cities like Austin and leave?

steger: It’s a really hard question. I think the most important thing right now is to fight for our lives and to make sure that we stay in town. We do think that the future of the platform is at stake. We really need to lean in and make sure that we’re doing all that we can to keep the platform flexible and open.

charles: I’m going to tell as many drivers as I can, because we really have to do something, and we have to do it now. Thank you for allowing me to come today and understand this better.

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