Uber has finally recognized a union of its own drivers. Allow yourself that one moment of elation before we get into the rest of the details.
GMB union in the UK (it’s not really an abbreviation for anything, as it was abbreviated to General, Municipal, Boilermakers’ and Allied Trade Union some 40 years ago) managed to achieve union recognition from the jaws of the famous labor hostile app company today. As The Guardian reported: “GMB will gain access to driver meeting hubs […] It will also be able to represent drivers if they lose access to the Uber app, and it will meet quarterly with management to discuss driver issues and concerns. ”
It’s not clear if this arrangement is more closely aligned with traditional union representation as we envision it in the US, or if it is more like the Independent Drivers Guild – an outsized advocacy group in New York that Uber meets and has been. widely criticized as a business association. Drivers are not automatically registered with the union as a result of working for Uber. That’s an arrangement we would call an “open shop” on this side of the Atlantic, and the company is almost certain it will benefit it.
Drivers in the UK recently won – through the courts – the right to be regarded as “employees” of Uber, a category different from “employees” but still offering basic working conditions such as minimum wages and pensions. However, that ruling did not apply to couriers on the Uber Eats delivery side, nor does this new union agreement cover them. From the outset, this new agreement leaves an estimated 30,000 Uber workers out in the cold. (We reached out to GMB and Uber for more information on that rundown.)
GMB has undoubtedly made history here, but Uber’s track record gives onlookers every reason to doubt the effectiveness of this new union. The company is threatening to withdraw from locations that don’t offer the legal cronyism it is used to – Quebec in 2017, for instance. It has also been involved in attempts to rewrite labor law in the US to meet its business interests, successfully overturning a California law through a voting proposal in the 2020 election, which the company – along with fellow travelers Lyft, DoorDash and Postmates – an estimated $ 200 million. Since then, drivers in the state have their wages are falling even further. (Uber is to attempt a similar legal maneuver in New York currently.)
Complicating further, one of the parties that helped obtain worker status for UK drivers – the App Drivers & Couriers Union – declined to sign a similar deal for recognition, claiming in a statement that it believes that “closer union involvement in Uber’s management is always a welcome development, but there is good reason for employees and their unions to exercise caution.” The group cited Uber’s ongoing hostility to employees both in and out of court, in the UK and US. “For us, compliance with legal minimums should be the starting point for any union agreement with Uber,” wrote the ADCU.
Yet a victory is a victory. “This groundbreaking deal between GMB and Uber could be the first step towards a fairer working life for millions of people,” noted GMB national officer Mick Rix, pleased to announce in identical press releases to The edge by both the union and Uber, “We are now calling on all other operators to follow suit.”