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BusinessGig WorkersModern ShipperNewsRecent News

Uber nears deal with UK labor union

Agreement would enable drivers to negotiate employment terms

Uber (NYSE: UBER) is reportedly set to recognize the rights of drivers to unionize in the U.K., according to a report, in a similar arrangement to its deal with the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) in the U.S.

Bloomberg reported the ride-hailing giant is set to recognize GMB, a 620,000-plus labor union that represents drivers, delivery workers and more in the U.K., allowing drivers using the platform to collectively bargain for rights.

GMB was one of the unions that supported the recent U.K. Supreme Court case that triggered the latest developments. That case, which found that Uber drivers were entitled to certain work conditions, including minimum wage, was led by drivers from the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU).

That group issued a statement saying that it was not prepared at this time to enter into a similar agreement with Uber.

“At this time ADCU is not prepared to enter into a recognition agreement with Uber,” it said, adding that “this is because Uber continues to violate basic employment law such as the right to minimum wage for all working time and holiday pay despite the recent U.K. Supreme Court ruling in our favor.”

ADCU also cited Uber’s continued “anti-union” behavior elsewhere.

“We are disturbed by Uber’s divisive and anti-union behavior in the United States, most recently in California and New York state, where Uber has used the appearance of blunt collective bargaining agreements to actually weaken the power of workers rather than the opposite,” the group said. “Naturally, we have concerns about Uber’s motivations on this side of the Atlantic, not only in the U.K. but throughout Europe also.”

In New York, legislators have introduced a set of bills that would allow drivers to receive union negotiating rights through bargaining with unions. In exchange, the drivers would maintain their independent status and not seek employee classification.

In 2016, Uber backed New York-based IDG. Part of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, IDG has said that it has worked on behalf of Uber and Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT) drivers in the state to usher in minimum wage requirements for drivers when New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission voted in 2018 in favor of a policy that mandated drivers earn a minimum of $17.22 per hour after expenses. Under the plan, drivers are paid based on a formula that considers mileage, time and the average percentage of time a car has a passenger in it. The union said the average driver would see a $9,600-per-year increase. The previous base rate was $11.90 per hour.

IDG formed a Chicago branch in January, hoping to achieve the same type of agreement.

In the U.K., Uber has a different option that it is pursuing – worker status. The country allows for three employment classifications: employee, worker and independent contractor. Workers are self-employed individuals but are entitled to certain benefits such as being paid under National Living Wage provisions, as well as earning holiday pay and pensions. In the U.S., workers are either employees or independent contractors. An Uber spokesperson told Modern Shipper in March that the company continues to work on ways to improve drivers’ work environments.


Read: Will US Uber drivers benefit from UK reclassification decision?

Read: Chicago union seeks wage, benefit boosts for rideshare drivers


“The U.K.’s ‘worker’ status is a unique classification that allows us to provide more benefits and protections to drivers while maintaining the No. 1 thing they want: to work flexibly without predetermined shifts,” the spokesperson said. “In the U.S., we are actively engaging with state governments on modernized laws that would allow companies like Uber to do just this.”

Mick Rix, GMB’s national officer, issued a statement in February following the conclusion of the Supreme Court case, calling it a “historic win” for the group’s members.

“The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of three previous courts, backing up what GMB has said all along: Uber drivers are workers and entitled to breaks, holiday pay and minimum wage,” he said. “Uber must now stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what’s right by the drivers who prop up its empire. GMB will now consult with our Uber driver members over their forthcoming compensation claim.”

Uber is facing driver classification issues on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to the high-profile fight in California, which resulted in Prop 22 that exempted most gig economy workers from state regulations regarding their classification as employees, the company has faced issues throughout Europe.

In Italy, Uber has reached collectively bargained agreements with its food delivery workers and in Germany, drivers are employed by a local fleet management company that contracts with Uber.

 Click for more FreightWaves articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight, managing editor, Modern Shipper

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and fleetowner.com. Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at bstraight@freightwaves.com.

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