February 4, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The union representing Black Car operators around town has launched a fresh campaign to organize angry Uber drivers who are finding it increasing impossible to earn a living behind the wheel.
Hard-pressed Uber drivers working with the NY Taxi Workers Alliance embarked on a 72-hour strike last weekend after the multi-national conglomerate cut fares by 15 percent — reducing many drivers’ earnings to sub-minimum wage levels.
District 15 of the Machinists Union first organized Black Car drivers back in 1997 when they helped win operators — deemed “independent contractors” and ineligible for traditional employee protections — the right to unionize and collectively bargain.
Now, the Machinists Union wants to accomplish much the same thing with Uber drviers. Many of the Uber drivers who are actively seeking union representation, started out as Black Car drivers interested in supplementing their income, but then started driving for Uber full-time. Uber has reportedly acquired 70 percent of the Black Car industry's business.
According to James Conigliaro, Jr., assisting business representative & general counsel for the Machinists Union, the labor group has already amassed a tremendous amount of support through traditional paper sign-up cards.
"Once [Uber] had a hold on the industry's business and successfully flooded it with its own drivers, it decided to decreae rates and increase commissions," Congilaro said. "Unfortunately, this has led to an increase in corporate revenue, but a decrease in driver's income."
The union has also established a new website at www.blackcarworkers.org where drivers can show their support for unionization [the site was not functioning at the time of this writing].
“You see this fight everywhere," Conigliaro told LaborPress. “With the fight for $15 movement – this isn’t much different from that. [Driver] wages, instead of going up, have been cut. We have to gather together as a labor movement to get around this [new] economy. This ‘gig economy’ or ‘share economy’ is just a way for employers to avoid paying.”
District 15’s path to unionizing Uber drivers is twofold. One way is to seek traditional collective bargaining recognition through the National Labor Relations Board. The other would build on what the Machinists Union was able to accomplish back in 1997, as well as what Uber drivers in Seattle have recently been able to accomplish through legislative measures.
“The other route is to do what they did in Seattle, where that city’s legislators passed legislation that allowed drivers to choose an association to bargain on their behalf,” Conigliaro said. “Both of those strategies start off with gathering support from the drivers.”
The Machinists Union, which has 600,000 members across North America, now believes it has that necessary support from drivers. District 15 has spent the last couple of years gearing up locally for the organizing effort. The present pool of potential drivers in NYC that might choose to join a new union numbers in the tens of thousands.
Conigliaro says that successfully organizing Uber drivers coming out of the Black Car industry, will require additional support, not only from the NY Taxi Workers Alliance, but from other unions as well.
“We all have to work together,” Conigliaro said. “We all want the same thing.”
The unrest Uber drivers are displaying on the streets of New York City is being mirrored across the country, as well as overseas. Thousands of Uber drivers are planning to stage a mass action in Santa Clara, California on Super Bowl Sunday.
“We can’t let this [new] economy fly by us and change how our job market works,” Conigliaro said. “We have to grab it and get in front of it — no matter what setbacks we might have to endure.”