Uber Technologies Inc.and Lyft Inc.’s efforts to reach a compromise with lawmakers in New York suffered a setback this week. A state senator scrapped closely watched plans to introduce a gig work bill this year that would have offered workers union representation without making them employees.
“We could never get everybody together,” said Democrat Diane Savino, a former union official who had been aiming to introduce a bill with both labor and industry support in time to pass before this year’s legislative session ends this week. “It’s a complicated problem, but the only way we’re going to get to a solution is people are going to have to put aside their own agendas and figure out, How do we solve it?”
The news sent Uber and Lyft shares to an intraday low. Each stock was down more than 3% Tuesday.
Some gig economy executives and labor leaders have been trying for years to hammer out an agreement that would meet both groups’ goals: growing unions’ ranks and preserving companies’ core business models, which rest on the claim that workers are independent contractors rather than employees entitled to full labor protections.
In New York, companies including Uber and Lyft have been discussing such a legislative deal with labor groups including the New York State AFL-CIO and the Independent Drivers Guild, an International Association of Machinists affiliate launched in 2016 with Uber’s funds. Draft legislation emerged from those talks was published by Bloomberg Law in late May and drew swift criticism from some influential lawmakers and labor groups, who argued the proposal would help the companies continue to deny workers the full employee rights they deserve, including the chance to democratically choose a union.
Under the proposal, a union that signed up a 10th of either the most active ride-hail drivers or app-based couriers could be designated by the state to represent all such workers in “sectoral bargaining talks over recommended rules for the industry. Gig companies that reached agreements with unions would be shielded from other state or city workplace laws, and 10 cents from each gig ride or delivery would be used to fund the participating unions.
“The death of this bill represents the power that delivery workers have,” said Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the Workers Justice Project, whose gig organizing group Los Deliveristas Unidos came out against the proposal last month and spurred the Transport Workers Union, which had been one of the compromise’s most vocal advocates, to withdraw its support.
Savino said she’s determined to pass a bill when the legislature returns next year and is eager to address concerns from groups such as Los Deliveristas, who she and representatives of DoorDash Inc. and Uber have recently met with. Savino, who chairs the state senate’s Internet and Technology committee, said she plans to take the lead on drafting the next version of her bill, rather than deferring as much to union and company leaders to write it.
The process this time around was “sabotaged” when last month’s draft was leaked “by people who wanted to make sure we didn’t get anywhere,” but productive talks have been going on as recently as this past weekend, she said.
The provision allowing unions to be recognized without showing majority support was appropriate for the gig sector, Savino said, because workers have no common workspace and would otherwise face particular difficulty organizing. “The best way for workers to improve their terms and conditions is through collective bargaining,” she said. “Legislators come and go, but the union is forever.”
Labor and industry groups that have been part of the talks said this week they, too, are determined to get something passed eventually. “Looking to January, we remain committed to finding a solution that specifically recognizes the Dasher experience, ensuring they can maintain the independence they need and gain access to benefits,” Max Rettig, the public policy head of DoorDash, wrote in an email Monday. The IDG, which rallied last week in support of the not-yet-introduced bill, said it was encouraged by the progress made to date. “Establishing collective bargaining rights for ride share and delivery drivers is the single most powerful opportunity we have to advance economic justice for these workers,” the group’s executive director Brendan Sexton said in an email.
But members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, including Uber and Lyft drivers, rallied in Albany on Monday against the not-yet-introduced bill. The group warned Tuesday against cutting any deals with the companies that don’t provide workers the full rights of employees.
“Unless the companies recognize they can’t roll back rights or deny drivers the economic floor granted to all other workers, there is no conversation to be had in any room,” Bhairavi Desai, the executive director, wrote in an email, “just much more organizing to be done on the streets.”