TaxiBy: Adam J. Smiley, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Uber has agreed to create the Independent Drivers Guild, a non-union organization that will provide New York City based Uber drivers with regular access to the Company and the ability to raise concerns regarding certain aspects of their working relationship.

On May 10, 2016, Uber reached an agreement with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (“IAMAW”) to create an association called the Independent Drivers Guild.  The Guild’s membership is limited to only those Uber drivers based in New York City, estimated at 35,000.  This agreement represents a meaningful olive branch between the Company and its independent contractor workforce, especially in light of Uber’s recent $100 million settlement (which still requires court approval) of a California class action lawsuit challenging the independent contractor classification of drivers.  Indeed, after the settlement was reached the Teamsters said it intended to form a similar association for California Uber drivers, although that association has not yet been formally created.

Uber drivers are not employees and are not entitled to the protections of the National Labor Relations Act. Thus, the Independent Drivers Guild is not a union and will not collectively bargain on behalf of the drivers.  Rather, the Guild is an organization that will purportedly “gather all drivers together to have a unified voice and work for common interests.”  The Guild will hold monthly meetings with Uber executives to discuss drivers’ concerns, including the Company’s decision to deactivate the services of certain drivers.  Under the five-year agreement, Uber will pay the costs associated with the Guild and drivers may join for free.

This agreement comes six months after Seattle’s City Council unanimously passed a law that would give Uber drivers the right to form labor unions. That law is already being challenged, however, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed suit against Seattle on March 3, 2016 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that the law violates federal anti-trust laws.  Seattle has filed a motion to dismiss the Chamber’s complaint.  If the Chamber’s lawsuit is successful, other cities will likely be deterred from passing similar laws.  Ultimately, Uber’s agreement to create the Independent Drivers Guild, a non-union association, may more accurately foreshadow the future relationship between Uber and its independent contractor workforce.