The Uber/Lyft Drivers’ Association, Unionization, and Labor Law Reform

N.B.: Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs posted a response to Part II of Veena Dubal’s pieces (here’s Part I) comparing solidarity unionism with company unions. In the spirit of debate, we’re cross-posting from On Labor. 

Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs –

In her second post on the Uber/Lyft drivers’ association, Veena Dubal rightly celebrates the success of the recent Uber/Lyft work stoppages.  The example of workers, who have no labor or employment law rights, engaging in the kind of collective action that she describes is inspirational.  Dubal also raises some important criticisms of the IDG, criticisms we take very seriously.

As Dubal recognizes, however, none of the actions by Uber and Lyft drivers have yielded collective bargaining rights, yet. So the question is what is the best path forward toward the securing of those rights. We agree with Dubal that winning union status and collective bargaining power at Uber and Lyft will depend critically on the continuation of the kind of solidarity actions that Dubal describes. But, in our view, a fundamental reshaping of labor law (at the state or federal level) will also be necessary. Unfortunately, even if an “uncompromised” version of California AB 5 passes, that won’t get us there.  Although that bill would constitute enormous progress, it would not on its own equip Uber and Lyft drivers to organize and bargain collectively.

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Autocracy at Work: Understanding the Gothamist Shut Down

Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs – 

Last week, billionaire Joe Ricketts abruptly shut down the local news websites Gothamist and DNAinfo.  The closure came a week after the sites’ newsroom employees voted to join Writers Guild East, a union that is the collective bargaining representative for reporters and editorial staff in a rapidly growing number of progressive, on-line media outlets.  Hamilton Nolan, a senior writer for Splinter and a lead organizer for the Writers Guild, made a compelling case in a New York Times op-ed that Ricketts did not shutter the company because of what the union would mean for the sites’ economic prospects. After all, the union hadn’t yet made a single demand. Instead, in Nolan’s words, Ricketts destroyed the company “out of spite.”

dnainfo-and-gothamist-shut-down-one-week-after-editorial-staff-unionizes-wgae-org-campaign

But why do unions infuriate people like Joe Ricketts? Why would Ricketts prefer having no business at all than a unionized business? The answer, we think, is suggested by something Ricketts said during the union’s organizing drive: “As long as it’s my money that’s paying for everything, I intend to be the one making the decisions about the direction of the business.” In other words, Ricketts expects that his financial power buys him the right not just to own a business, but to control his business’ workforce unburdened by the voices and views of that workforce

Unionization is, and always has been, the most effective way that working people can wrest a bit of control back from owners like Ricketts. It operates through the simple logic of collective action: by bargaining together, people increase their leverage and gain a voice in shaping what their work lives are like. Unions move workplaces away from institutions governed autocratically – by those with the ‘money that pays for everything’ – and toward institutions that are governed democratically, by including the insights and opinions of those who do the work. Continue reading