Uber is writing a new chapter in its estranged relationship with its driver community.
The ride-hailing company has entered an agreement with a major union that allows its drivers to form an association in New York, which would help open dialogue between the company and its drivers. The association, which will be called Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), will also help the drivers seek certain limited benefits and protections from Uber.
The association, according to The New York Times, will work under the regional affiliate of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union. Its establishment marks the first step the company has taken toward establishing a direct channel of communication with its drivers for benefits, payment negotiation and problem resolution.
“We’re happy to announce that we’ve successfully come to agreement with Uber to represent the 35,000 drivers using Uber in New York City to enhance their earning ability and benefits,” said James Conigliaro, Jr., IDG's founder and assistant director and general counsel of the International Association of Machinists District 15, which represents workers in the Northeast region.
Though many might see Uber's blessing for IDG as a Hail Mary pass to avoid complete unionization, Uber has full intent to use it for lobbying the state legislature to treat its drivers fairly. According to the terms of its five-year agreement, the guild members will hold monthly meetings with company representatives to voice their problems and appeal any decisions made by the upper management.
As part of the benefits package, they would get discounted access to legal assistance, discounted life and disability insurance and subsidized roadside assistance when they are driving, according to NYT. The association deal, however, would prevent the drivers from unionizing and appealing on wage and benefit issues.
The association will help drivers push back against policies, which can sometimes force them to take up rides they would rather not. For example, the company's policy pushes for UberBLACK drivers to pick up riders who have requested the low-cost UberX when enough rides are not available in the area.
Uber's support for IDG comes just a week after New York-based Uber drivers announced their intent to form a union.
While Uber has, by and large, not supported or acknowledged any unions formed by its drivers, its sudden change in attitude comes as it faces stronger regulatory headwinds working against it. Last week, the company wrapped up its business in Austin, Texas, after losing a vote over background check practices.
In California and Massachusetts, the company struck a $100 million deal with drivers, which compensated them over expense issues. In return, the company got to continue to classify them as independent contractors. It's facing similar battles in Florida and Illinois.