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News + Politics Uber, the Conference of Mayors, and the taxi drivers

Uber, the Conference of Mayors, and the taxi drivers

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Expect protests from (real) cab drivers as Uber helps host US Conference of Mayors — just as that company is getting hit for failing to treat its workers as employees

The Taxi Workers Alliance will be protesting Uber at the Conference of Mayors meeting in SF
The Taxi Workers Alliance will be protesting Uber at the Conference of Mayors meeting in SF

By Tim Redmond

JUNE 18, 2015 — On Monday, June 22, Mayor Ed Lee will lead the Conference of US Mayors on a tour of Uber headquarters. It’s part of his ongoing promotion of tech in the city; other tour locations include Autodesk and Twitter.

The Uber tour comes just as that company is taking some serious political and legal hits that could undermine the entire concept of the “sharing economy” – at least on the level of employment.

Companies like Uber try to get away with keeping the number of actual employees low – most of the people who make money for the outfit are drivers who are treated as independent contractors.

That saves Uber (and Lyft, and TaskRabbit, and so many other outfits) the cost of providing health insurance, disability, workers compensation, retirement and all of the other benefits that typically come with real employment.

But the regulators are starting to crack down.

Why the US Conference of Mayors would want to make a company that has been operating in so many cities in violation of local laws a stop on a goodwill tour is a bit confusing – except, no: Uber is a big sponsor of the mayor’s conference.

But the mayors who choose to go to Uber will be greeted by angry taxi drivers – real taxi drivers – who will circle the HQ, hold a press conference out front, and hand out leaflets.

That’s going to part of series of protests against Uber that will focus on the Conference of Mayors. The drivers will be out protesting Lee’s Saturday speech to the conference and the City Hall party Friday night. And on Monday they will be at Uber.

As Ruach Graffis, a longtime driver who works with the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, told me, “we aren’t against the Uber drivers, because they’re workers like us. But we want Uber to play by the same rules as everyone else.”

There’s some indication now that Uber may have to act more like a real employer – and business analysts say that could deeply damage the company’s bottom line. The state Labor Commission just ruled that Uber drivers are not independent contractors but employees. The ruling applies to only one driver, who will get a little more than $4,000 in back pay, and will be appealed. Ultimately, the question will wind up in court – and possibly at the state Legislature and Congres.

A similar case against FedEx just wound up with a settlement that’s going to encourage drivers (and their lawyers) to pursue a lot more of these claims.

The tech folks, most of whom are young, love the model of everyone working as a freelancer, and sympathetic economists talk about how most people these days can look forward to having dozens of jobs (or gigs) over their lifetimes. That’s all fine and good for some, but as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich puts it in the NYT:

“For anybody who has to pay the bills and has a family, having no labor protections and no job security is at best a mixed blessing. At worst, it is a nightmare. Obviously some workers prefer to be independent contractors — but mostly they take these jobs because they cannot find better ones.”

So the existing laws, which make it hard for companies to turn employees into freelancers, are starting to come up against the great wealth of companies that live by keeping workers off the payroll and not paying benefits.

I assume the Uber lobbyists are already plotting their legislative strategy.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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  34. Fantastic comment, thank you. I am enraged at what is going on in this city. And just about everyone turns a blind eye. Ed Lee and the city government are in bed with Uber and Lyft. And with the public raving about how much they love the TNCs (and yes, the app is a good thing), what chance is there for any change?
    Or any fairness? I despair.

  35. “Just be glad that a major global innovator and powerhouse actually wants to be based in a city hostile to success and prosperity.”

    No one actually believes this sort of statement. Least of all the people who are actually pushing for the Uber business model. No one is actually this stupid. Not even you, Almondy. The profiteers are fully aware they are gutting worker rights and undermining any and all regulation to the detriment of the rest of the world. It’s the whole point of it.

  36. Your totally spot on. The whole game is investment banks companies like Goldman Sachs get subsides from the Federal Reserve like bailouts and 0% loans they then take the money and support companies like Uber who can use predatory pricing and other tactics to buy up the commons of the community and then rent these areas back to the public for a profit. Renting something back to the public that the public initially owned.

  37. Info on the protests:

    http://www.sftwa.org/announcements

    AMERICAN MAYORS ARE MEETING HERE JUNE 19-22

    UBER AND MAYOR LEE ARE HOSTING EVENTS

    SATURDAY, JUNE 20TH, 12:30-1:30PM AT THE HILTON UN. SQ.
    SAN FRANCISCO TAXI WORKERS ALLIANCE PRESS CONFERENCE

    Come make your voices heard, bring your cabs, wear a smile with your badge, help hand out flyers, stand with the Taxi Workers Alliance for our press conference and exercise your First Amendment Rights to Free Speech.

    SUNDAY – PICKET PICNIC AT THE HILTON – 1-3PM

    MONOPOLY MONDAY

    JUNE 22ND – 2 TO 5 PM (3PM PRESS CONFERENCE)

    MAYOR LEE TAKES THE MAYORS ON A TOUR OF UBER HEADQUARTERS…

    1455 MARKET ST.

  38. Actually, no. Most have self-respect and don’t want to drive their own cars for minimum wage without workers comp.

  39. Ha! Über is hostile to cities that impose normal safety regulations on it. Except in SF, where the major is Silicon Valley’s kept whore.

  40. Any company can be prosperous and successful by sidestepping laws that were designed to protect consumers and their own workers.

  41. The huge new HQ Uber is proposing for Third Street will be across the street from the Warriors Arena, in Mission Bay. Currently going through Mission Bay CAC presentation stage (much like the Warriors are) and one of Uber’s advisory team is a former Mission Bay CAC member. Has the appearance of a rubber stamp.

  42. Welcome to Mayor Ed Lee’s San Francisco, where city government commercializes public resources and grants *special permissions* to a select group of disruptive companies who write big fat checks to legislators. Of course all of this “disruption” is supposed to “trickle down” to the rest of us who are paying for the corporate welfare with the highest taxes, fines,and fees in the country.

    The whole city is squabbling about who has the best deck chair on the Titanic while corporate interests disrupt every industry that is being regulated by City Hall.
    Home sharing, car haring, ride sharing, bike sharing, shuttle sharing, and privatization public space that has been paid for with Taxpayer money. Public-private partnerships lack transparency and accountability to the taxpayers who pay for them.

  43. Do you have numbers on this? The Examiner has a columnist who left one of the ride shares to go to work for one of the taxi compannies. Also, for a couple of weeks last month Uber had human billboards on Cheasar Chavez recruiting new drivers. Do they have a turnover issue?

  44. “Real” taxi drivers are going to love the Labor Commission ruling, too. They have always paid their own gasoline.

  45. Just be glad that a major global innovator and powerhouse actually wants to be based in a city hostile to success and prosperity

  46. I can’t believe that a company that runs independent contractors out of a computer program needs to build a huge new headquarters on Third Street. Where and why?

  47. Many taxi drivers moved to drive Uber and Lyft. It’s taxi business owners who are against TNCs.

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