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Teamsters organize Uber drivers in Seattle

Drivers for app-based ride services like Uber and UberX are organizing with Teamsters Local 117 in Seattle, which already represents taxi drivers.

The Seattle Times reports:

It’s been a tumultuous year for Seattle-area taxi drivers who’ve lost much of their business to increasingly popular phone-app ride services from companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. 

But it hasn’t been an easy ride for drivers of the app-based dispatch services either. 

That’s why about 200 of them gathered in Tukwila Sunday to formally coalesce as an association. The App-Based Drivers Association elected its first leadership council and established bylaws for about 500 drivers who expressed interest in joining. The association is made up of drivers for so-called rideshare services — legally referred to as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) — and luxury ride services such as UberBLACK and UberSUV.

Local 117 explains:

Drivers want to bring transportation companies into compliance with municipal, county, and state regulations and laws. They want sufficient liability coverage to protect themselves and their customers, and they want companies to end the predatory practices of disconnecting drivers from their apps without cause and arbitrarily gouging drivers’ pay. 

Daniel Ajema, an Uber driver and one of the organizers of the association, called it 'a historic day.'

We set a framework for the future and for the workers who follow us. From now on, our dignity will be protected in the workplace. 

Another organizer and elected leader, added:

The association will give us a voice, more control over our working conditions, and an opportunity to be heard. Teamsters will help us with that.

Ride services like Uber are part of a new Internet-based employment trend, called 'insourcing.' They are individuals who contract with Internet-based companies like Uber and Taskrabbit to perform services, either at a rate set by the larger company or in a free-for-all bidding war.

Lydia Bowers at The Roosevelt Institute explains the pitfalls:

As contractors, these workers receive very little protection in terms of minimum wage laws or unions, let alone benefits or insurance for the work they do. And their ranks are growing fast. 

At Taskrabbit, members place bids to perform services like do laundry or paint an apartment.

Writes Bowers,

With little in the way of health insurance or other protections in work environments that are frequently dangerous ...  and a stream of work that is impossible to guarantee or even estimate, taskrabbits have it rough. Add that to the “lowest bidder almost always wins” formula for Taskrabbit services and the workers in this emerging industry face a bleak picture for economic stability...

The New York Times outlined the pitfalls of Uber:

Peter Ashlock drove a cab in San Francisco for 10 years in the 1970s and early ’80s, bringing home about $500 a week. For a few years, he even got health insurance. Two years ago he started driving for Uber. After gas and the company’s commission — usually 20 percent — he makes about $1,000 a week. Factor in inflation, and he has lost ground. 

“I have freedom and flexibility now,” said Mr. Ashlock, 65. “If I want to take a vacation I just take it. But there’s no union. There’s no community of drivers. And the only people getting rich are the investors and the executives.”

As for Seattle's Uber drivers -- Welcome to our great union!

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