Uber drivers in NYC petition for a union election

Uber drivers at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking a union representation election.

The workers want to be represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1430.

The petition for union representation came after Uber imposed a 15 percent fare cut.

Local 1430 organizers have been talking to some Uber drivers at LaGuardia for the past year about organizing a union, but the fare cut ignited outrage among drivers that set the union representation process in motion.

Jordan El-Hag, Local 1430 business manager, said that drivers wanted a voice on the job.

“Uber’s imposing changes unilaterally and (the drivers) want to have a say, said El-Hag to the International Business Times. “It’s about having a say over their livelihood.”

Uber recently announced fare cuts in 100 cities in the US and Canada. The cuts range from 15 percent to 45 percent.

The cuts caused some Uber drivers to walk off the job in New York and San Francisco.

In New York, 600 Uber drivers demonstrated at Uber’s New York City headquarters to protest the fare cuts.

Tsering Serpa, an Uber driver, told the New York Times that because of the fare cut, he will have to work 10 to 14 hours a day. Serpa told the Times that before the fare cut went into effect, he was working eight hours a day six days a week.

“New York City just keeps getting more and more expensive,” said Sherpa to the Times. “How are we supposed to survive on less money?”

The New York demonstration was organized by the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance.

There are about 30,000 Uber drivers in New York City, but rather than trying to organize all of them at once, Local 1430 decided to organize a small group of drivers that share a community of interests.

Uber drivers at La Guardia learned that in order to pick up fares at the airport, they needed to stay in close proximity to it. As a result, they began gathering at the same airport parking lot waiting for dispatches from Uber.

The parking lot became a de facto work site, said El-Hag to the International Business Times.

Even though Uber has not responded publicly to the petition, it is certain that the company will challenge it before the NLRB.

As it has in the past, Uber will likely argue that its drivers are independent contractors and therefore have no rights to form unions and bargain collectively.

But a recent ruling by an NLRB regional office in Arizona could have some impact on how the NLRB rules.

NLRB Region 28 Director Cornele Overstreet recently rejected arguments by Tucson Yellow Cab that its drivers are independent contractors.

Overstreet wrote that independent contractors must have “actual entrepreneurial opportunity for loss or gain,” but Yellow Cab sets fare rates and controls other facets of the job that limit entrepreneurial opportunity.

Consequently, Overstreet ruled that a union election take place at Yellow Cab.

Local 1430 is hoping for the same result at LaGuardia.

The fact that an IBEW local ended up helping LaGuardia Uber drivers organize is an interesting story in itself.

At one time, Local 1430 represented workers in New York City’s electrical manufacturing industry, but most of those jobs have been moved out of the city.

Instead of fading away, Local 1430 decided to reinvent itself. It became a self-described organizing local.

“Seventy percent of our time and resources are spent organizing,” said El-Hag to The Electrical Worker. “The rest of the time is devoted to servicing existing units. This is the reverse of many locals.”

“All of our business agents act as organizers,” continued El-Hag. “Our goal is for each business agent to organize 100 new members each year. We conduct staff meetings each week to review targets. Our guys are on the street every day making contact with workers inside and outside industries we are focusing on. Even as they service locals, agents stay busy in the mornings, afternoons and evenings visiting workplaces to collect organizing contacts and information.”

Local 1430 represents workers at about 40 companies throughout New York City and surrounding  areas.

The organizing culture at Local 1430 led its organizers to make contact with some Uber drivers at LaGuardia.

When the fare cuts set off a spontaneous demonstration by Uber drivers, Local 1430 organizers began collecting signatures on union authorization cards, the first step toward getting the NLRB to hold a union election.

Three days later, Local 1430 petitioned the NLRB for an election.

A lot will be riding on the final outcome of this organizing drive. If successful, it could change the way that Uber and other sharing economy businesses treat their workers.

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