Uber Recognizes New York Drivers’ Group, Short of Union

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Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive and one of its founders. The company is trying to smooth relationships with drivers after recent fare cuts and policy changes. Credit Balazs Gardi

Uber announced an agreement on Tuesday with a prominent union to create an association for drivers in New York that would establish a forum for regular dialogue and afford them some limited benefits and protections — but that would stop short of unionization.

The association, which will be known as the Independent Drivers Guild and will be affiliated with a regional branch of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, is the first of its kind that Uber has officially blessed, although Uber drivers have formed a number of unsanctioned organizations in cities across the country.

“We’re happy to announce that we’ve successfully come to agreement with Uber to represent the 35,000 drivers using Uber in New York City to enhance their earning ability and benefits,” said James Conigliaro Jr., founder of the guild and assistant director and general counsel at the International Association of Machinists District 15, which represents workers in the Northeast.

The agreement is Uber’s latest attempt to assuage mounting concerns from regulators and drivers groups about the ride-hailing company’s labor model, which treats drivers as independent contractors. That model helps Uber keep its labor costs low, but it excludes drivers from being covered by most labor and employment laws, such as those that require a minimum wage and overtime.

That has spurred public disagreements, with many drivers organizing in unofficial groups to gain more rights. The prospect of unionization has loomed at times; lawmakers in Seattle voted last year to approve a bill allowing drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing apps to form unions.

In response, Uber, which is based in San Francisco, has been striking deals to tamp down the problems — with the proviso that the company be able to continue classifying its drivers as contractors and stop short of allowing drivers to unionize.

Last month, for example, Uber reached a settlement in a prominent class-action lawsuit with drivers who had contested their contractor status. Under the settlement, the company agreed to pay as much as $100 million and put less pressure on drivers to accept all rides; drivers will, however, continue as freelancers.

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