For a supposedly cutting-edge transportation company, Uber seems to be spending most of its time battling city governments. In London, Uber is facing fines from the city government, including penalties for loitering, running illegal hire vehicles, and creating a public nuisance.
Uber claims it will pay the fines its drivers get in the British capital, which does not seem like a profitable business model, although it does sound like a profitable business for London’s government. The fines are Transport for London’s latest attempt to deal with Uber. A British court ruled that Uber is not covered by the regulations that government traditional cabs in July.
That means Uber is operating in a legal gray area in Britain, just like in much of the U.S. Nobody seems to know what the service is or how it should be regulated, nor does anybody seem to know if its workers are employees or not. One problem in Britain is that Transport for London, which regulates cabs and runs the subway and buses in London, has decided Uber’s app is not a taximeter (which seems illogical).
Interestingly enough, some Uber drivers in London are unionized and members of the GMB Professional Drivers Union. The Union is encouraging its members to keep detailed records of their pay, possibly for legal action.
Uber has had some effect in London: NYSE Post reported that around 5% of the city’s minicab or taxi companies have gone out of business over the past five years.
Seattle City Council Tries to Give Uber Drivers the Right to Unionize
The city council in Seattle is trying to bring networked transportation companies like Uber and Lyft under the same rules as cab companies. TV station KOMO reported that the council is considering an ordinance that would give Uber and Lyft drivers collective bargaining rights, which means they could unionize.
That could present real problems for Uber; its drivers in at least one other U.S. city, Dallas, actually struck a new policy requiring all drivers to pick up lower-paying UberX customers last month. Not surprisingly, an Uber representative spoke against the collective bargaining proposal at a hearing of the Seattle city council’s Finance and Culture Committee on Oct. 1, 2015, KOMO reported.
The committee ignored Uber and approved a proposed regulation that would give all professional drivers in the city collective bargaining rights by a vote of seven to one. The legislation would still have to be approved by the whole city council.
That will not necessarily give the drivers the right to form a union. Uber will undoubtedly challenge the action in court. The company could also appeal to the National Labor Relations Board – the federal agency that regulates unions and employer-employees relations in the U.S. – which could lead to a conflict between city and national governments.
It looks as if Uber is mired in bureaucratic regulation and legal challenges. One has to wonder how long this company can last if it picks a fight with the labor movement and its own drivers.
How Uber could disrupt the Labor Movement
Once more, Uber is proving itself the best friend organized labor has. It is doing everything in its power to create a new generation of activist workers who are empowered by technology. That could disrupt the political system and the labor movement itself, in much the same way Uber has disrupted the taxicab industry.
One has to wonder how long it will be before there is a conflict between unionized Uber or Lyft drivers and traditional union bosses. For example, Uber drivers might object to a portion of their dues being handed to politicians or paid out to union officials in the form of salaries. This could give rise to a new kind of union that could change the labor movement in the same way Uber has disrupted the taxi cab industry.