Pando

Uber hires largest union busting law firm, as the driver furor only grows

By Sarah Lacy , written on February 16, 2016

From The Travis Shrugged Desk

Uber fights politicians (the ones it doesn’t give money to.)

Uber fights journalists.

Uber fights taxis.

Uber fights other startup competitors.

Around the world.

Uber’s fights with its own drivers.

But so far, it’s only had to fight with them one-on-one or a few dozen at a time in social media. At worst: A few hundred in a physical protest. That it can handle. The one-off complainers, it kicks off its platform. The gripers on social media? It just blocks them. They probably dance to “Shake It Off” in the offices again, they just aren’t dumb enough to post the photo on Twitter this time.

And those protests. Well the beauty of cutting drivers pay so greatly is all you have to do is turn on surge pricing and many lose their resolve. A digital service, where the drivers don’t have the same shoulder-to-shoulder allegiance makes it hard to exert the kind of social pressure of a strike. As BuzzFeed wrote, it’s classic union busting, only it’s in the very design of the company.

These are all reasons unions were created. And as the driver movement grows, Uber is starting to get legitimately worried about the lowercase “u” word.

Drivers in Seattle have reported getting phone calls from Uber this weekend, just polling them on their satisfaction. with a little pitch at the end about what a bad idea it would be for drivers to unionize and how the whole drive may still be illegal.

Politico reports that Uber has hired one of the largest union avoidance law firms, Littler Mendelson, as union talk mounts in New York as well.

VCs like Fred Wilson have essentially been heckling Uber to go public. With unproven economics and threats like these, I’m not sure how it can. Especially in this market.

If Uber stumbles it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen this movie. Remember when Groupon was the fastest growing company in Valley history? WebVan too was on of the highest funded of the dot com bubble. And there was Zynga, built on a “do anything” to win culture. But it’s hard to think of a company that has created all its biggest threats quite the way Uber has. Even Zynga could blame the Facebook platform.