Are Uber drivers trying to form a union?

SEATTLE — About 300 drivers who work as contractors for the rideshare company Uber met Sunday afternoon to discuss grievances and the possibility of forming their own association.

They were helped by Teamsters Local 117.

Some drivers in attendance were recently deactivated from the Uber system. They said they got no warning about no longer being able to log on and accept rides.

Because Uber drivers spend their own money to purchase the cars they drive for this business, they said they feel they are risking a significant investment without having due process to appeal a termination.

Most of the drivers who attended are part of the UberBLACK system, where drivers take passengers in Lincoln Town Cars. Because of the class of vehicle, UberBLACK falls under state regulations for limousines and not under controversial city regulations that would cap the number of taxis and other rideshare cars.

William Anderson used to drive for UberBLACK but said he was deactivated the day after he spoke out in favor of caps.

“The next day I woke up in the morning, turned my phone on, and my phone was off. Wow,” Anderson said.

In a press release a few days earlier, Anderson said he was given the reason that his customer rating dropped from a 5 to a 4.6.

KIRO 7 asked Uber for a response. The general manager for Uber Seattle, Brooke Steger, wrote:

“Uber’s best-in-class service requires that we deactivate drivers who provide poor customer service, pose a risk to rider safety or violate our terms of service and commitment to riders. Although those issues may not concern the taxi industry, we think the public deserves better. It’s for those reasons that we no longer partner with Mr. Anderson.”

One of the current drivers, Daniel Ajema, said, “They’re saying customers deserve better. Our response to that is, drivers deserve better too.”

Ajema said he is not against the idea of customer ratings, but he wishes there was a way for drivers to be able to explain their side of the story before they’re terminated.

Drivers also said they received an email recently requiring all of them to have cars made in 2009 or later, after two men had just spent thousands of dollars buying earlier-model cars.
Because UberBLACK drivers also purchase their own for-hire licenses, they said this type of investment is being made at an unfairly high risk.

KIRO 7 also talked to an UberX driver, who did not want to be recorded. He said he agrees with all of the points made in the meeting, including supporting caps on the number of rideshare cars.

Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien, King County Council member Joe McDermott, and a member of Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant’s staff also came to the meeting.

O’Brien said, “I heard some drivers say we are the ones who built Uber in Seattle. You know, we are the drivers are the ones who got customers. And now they’re kicking us off the system. They’re changing the rules on us without asking about that and costing us tens of thousands of dollars. There’s just something about fairness that we’re not seeing right now.”

A city ordinance requiring each rideshare company to only have 150 cars on the street at one time is planned to go into effect at the end of the week.

However, O’Brien said if 25,000 signatures are presented to the city council before then, the issue could be put to a public vote in either August or November.

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