A group of Los Angeles–area Uber drivers has teamed up with Teamsters Local 986.
The affiliation doesn't mean the drivers are unionizing. At this point, they couldn't do so if they wanted to because they are not technically employees. But Joseph DeWolf Sandoval, a member of the California App-Based Drivers’ Association (CADA) leadership counsel, says that could change if future court challenges are successful.
In the meantime, the formal alliance means that CADA will benefit from the "organizational and lobbying assistance" of one of America's most-powerful and iconic labor organizations:
The association of Uber drivers in L.A. and Orange counties has tried to meet with Uber management, but Sandoval says the company will not even recognize the group.
So CADA went to the Teamsters and asked for help. Chris Griswold, secretary treasurer of Local 986 in South El Monte, says:
We look forward to working with CADA to help the drivers win fairness in the workplace and help them get recognized for the work they do making Uber and other app-based companies successful. These app-based companies need to start treating their professional drivers with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
Drivers' gripes include:
-Tips and pay: Uber likes to make customers believe that tips are included, Sandoval says, but the truth is that there's no extra pay for drivers. In a statement, the Teamsters broke down one ride this way:
One driver recounted how on a recent $4 fare, Uber kept $1.60, gas was 80 cents, a bottle of “complementary” water was 45 cents, and the cost of commercial insurance for the ride amounted to 40 cents, leaving him with a take-home of 75 cents for the trip and no tip, because it is “supposedly” included.
-Town cars. Sandoval says that Uber made a surprise and unilateral move that burned a lot of Uber Black car-service drivers: The company declared that 2011 and older Lincoln Town Car models, even if they were just purchased, would have to be converted to the less-lucrative UberX ride-share platform.
-Insurance. He thinks Uber drivers are underinsured, and he says CADA supports state legislation that would require the ride-share apps to cover drivers with higher levels of commercial insurance. A compromise version of the bill was just hammered out yesterday and drew the support of Uber and competitor Lyft, although the two previously were opposed to the legislation.
Sandoval, who owns a small fleet of Uber Black cars and who drives occasionally himself, says drivers need the professional-strength insurance:
While driving, they're constantly looking at their app to determine where they are on the map with respect to the surge pricing zones, so they can maximize fares. When they see an area that pops up as a surge, they will race over to that area so they can hopefully get a ride. So they're disengaged from the road, engaged with their phones and driving to that area as soon as possible.
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Under the previous system, there were drivers who found their personal policies wouldn't cover them because they were en route to a fare and thus engaged in commercial activity, which arguably would require commercial insurance. Uber has said previously that its extra insurance shouldn't kick in until a fare has been accepted.
Sandoval declined to say how many members CADA has, but he said expansion is on the horizon. He indicated that Uber drivers, lured by Uber Facebook posts promising as much annual cash as a cop makes, are bitter:
We believe the Teamsters affiliation will get the word out that there is a formal organization supported by a strong and active union, and we're hoping this will bring us more drivers. Hopefully this will give us an opportunity to speak with one, unified voice.
[Added at 1:26 p.m.]: We forgot to mention that we did reach out to an Uber spokeswoman to allow the company to weigh in on this, but she didn't respond.
Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.