SoCal Uber drivers align with the Teamsters in search of better working conditions

By Michael Carney , written on August 28, 2014

From The News Desk

Weeks after San Francisco cab drivers formed a union in hopes that solidarity would offer a solution to the onslaught of on-demand transportation startups, Uber drivers in Southern California are taking their own steps toward organization in the hopes of earning better treatment from their contract employer.

According to a press release issued yesterday by the California App-Based Drivers' Association (CADA), the recently formed group has formalized an affiliation with the Teamsters Local 986 chapter based in El Monte, California, a suburb located roughly 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The release states:

CADA was established earlier this year in an effort to unite drivers who operate under smartphone-based ridesharing applications, including Uber.

Uber drivers have long expressed frustration in what they perceive as unsafe, deceptive, and unfair business practices mandated by Uber. CADA council member Lotfi Ben Yeder says that, “[Uber’s] manifest indifference to the plight of its drivers, coupled with a series of misleading attacks on legislation aimed at protecting driver, consumer, and public safety ultimately led drivers to form CADA.”

A statement by the group further takes issue with what it calls Uber’s “non-transparent and biased rating system,” which the drivers cite as resulting in an inability to protect themselves from sexual harassment and abusive treatment from customers. Drivers, it claims, are facing difficulty earning a living wage due to repeat reductions in fares, a lack of tips resulting from Uber’s automated payment system, and changes in the classification of several vehicle types from the premium Uber Black to economy UberX tiers.

Prior to its association with the Teamsters, Uber has thus far refused to engage with the driver’s association. But while Uber is no stranger to controversy, having navigated several protracted regulatory battles across the US and internationally, it may find the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to be among its most formidable opponents. The century old labor union has more than 1.4m members across North America and has waged successful campaigns against many of the country’s largest employers, such as UPS. Uber, despite its heaps of venture funding, big shot PR head, and libertarian ideals, won’t strike much fear into the Teamsters.

It’s still very early days for the transportation on-demand industry, which means that Uber and its corporate brethren are likely only scratching the surface of the labor and regulatory issues that they’ll face as this market continues to mature. The company has historically shown a disregard for any group that stands in its way or in any way questions its methods, be it regulators, the media, or its own drivers.

Uber is an impressive company that has delivered the world truly transformational innovation. But if the company wants to maintain its growth momentum and win the hearts and minds of both riders and the drivers that it needs to serve them, it’s likely that a more cooperative approach will be needed. With drivers now organizing aligning themselves with the granddaddy of all labor unions, this transformation will come one way or another, even if it ends up being at the point of a proverbial gun. Or, given the Teamsters’ history, a real one.