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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The Uber/Lyft “Workers’ Association” Debate: A Response to Dubal

N.B.: Benjamin Sachs penned this response to Part I of Veena Dubal’s post on comparing solidarity unionism with company unions earlier this week. In the spirit of debate, we’re cross-posting from On Labor. 

Benjamin Sachs –

Veena Dubal writes an important piece that raises concerns about Uber and Lyft’s suggestion that drivers in California form a “workers’ association.” Dubal worries that such an association would amount to a company union that would “necessarily impede” the development of fully independent, exclusive-representative unions at the gig firms. Given the essential role that independent unions play in our economy and our politics, Dubal is highly critical of the workers’ association idea.

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Gig Worker Organizing for Solidarity Unions

Veena Dubal – 

The “gig economy” is one place where organizing outside of traditional trade unions is undoubtedly happening in surprising and perhaps unexpected ways. For example, on May 8, 2019, a group of independent app-based drivers in Los Angeles called the LA Rideshare Drivers United organized and launched an unprecedented international picket and work stoppage against Uber and Lyft. They were joined by similar driver groups all over the United States (including in New York City) and as far off as Nigeria, Australia, and the United Kingdom.   This was an incredible feat given that, as my co-authors and I have argued, gig workers—particularly those who work for a platform-based company—face unique hurdles to organizing. Among other factors, these workers are unusually dispersed, atomized, and differentially dependent on gig work.

Having studied gig workers for over a decade, I was surprised by the magnitude of the May 8 strike. Two things stood out to me. First, I was struck by the large number of driver-led groups in the U.S. which participated in the coordinated work stoppages. Drivers’ groups from Boston, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C. issued a joint statement calling their action a “strike” (not just a rally or protest) and announcing themselves “united as one joint council of grassroots driver labor organizations with the shared goal of winning job security, livable incomes, and respect for App drivers.” Not all drivers’ groups that participated in their regions signed onto this statement—presumably because of the legal risks of calling this action a “strike.”

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Solidarity Unionism v. Company Unionism in the Gig Economy

Veena Dubal – 

The CEOs of the two top-competing gig firms—Uber and Lyft—penned a June 12, 2019 OpEd in the San Francisco Chronicle in which they claim that after over six years of local, state, federal, and international law-breaking, ignoring the concerns of drivers, and viciously fighting any efforts to achieve living wage and benefits, they are ready to compromise…in California. They claim that in exchange for getting rid of a bill that just passed the state assembly—which would extend California labor protections to many “gig workers” by making it easier for them to claim employee status under state law—they will agree to establish a wage floor, a “workers’ association,” and potentially, a deactivation appeals process.

Why, after six years of legal and political intransigence, are these companies so ready to come up with a salve? And what should we make of their concessions?

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