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California drivers team up to take on Uber, Lyft

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Drivers for ride-sharing services in Los Angeles like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are organizing with the help of Teamsters Local 986, a local labor union, to form an 'association.' 

Uber was just valued at $18.2 billion and refers to its drivers as ‘partners’—a euphemism that obscures the fact that its drivers are not employees but independent contractors. As such, Uber drivers cannot unionize; thus the incentive to form an ‘association,’ which would include drivers from other, similar services.

While Uber has no obligation to engage with the association, Joseph DeWolf, co-chair of the California App-based Drivers’ Association (as it is reportedly called), is optimistic that some kinds of collective action would not go unnoticed. A day-long walkout, he speculated to Businessweek, “may send a message that the Uber system/platform is more than just technology.”

“Part of that [$18.2 billion] valuation is the cars and the drivers themselves,” DeWolf mused. “I think that is a heavy hammer to wield on our part.”

It’s a similar sentiment to that expressed by drivers in Seattle, who organized the App-Based Drivers Association (also with the Teamsters’ help) in May. “We’re a significant part of their moneymaking,” Uber driver Daniel Ajema told the Seattle Times, “but we don’t have a seat at the table.”

“If an Uber driver wants to make a change they can talk to us directly—they don’t need a bogus organization like this to do that,” an Uber spokesperson told VentureBeat at the time.

Drivers in Seattle and Los Angeles, at least, do not feel that the lines of communication between Uber and its drivers are so open.

“From almost all accounts—at least from the driver’s perspective—[Uber is] not a very good partner," DeWolf told Southern California Public Radio. "It’s very difficult for drivers to express their viewpoints or to complain without the fear that there’s going to be some form of punitive reaction from Uber.”

H/T Businessweek / Photo via xeno_sapien/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)