Another Thumbs Down on Ride Sharing…Unless It Catalyzes New (OK, Old) Union Forms

Stephen Herzenberg |

A good friend earlier this week shared this story on ride sharing.

The story underscores the strong parallels between ride sharing and the deregulated trucking industry, which we pointed out a few months ago.

In both cases, in the context of an excess supply of drivers, a downward spiral can result in compensation, while hours of work mushroom as drivers try to maintain a decent weekly wage. Both cases also compromise service and safety because there is no effective method of monitoring insurance, driver quality and knowledge of routes, vehicle maintenance etc.

The only silver lining here is that the Uber/Lyft “ride sharing” example may lead more workers — and more of the public — to see the need for new forms of union that include all drivers (whether in a taxi or their own ride share vehicle) in a metro area, and therefore have the power to lift job quality standards. Those drivers could negotiate fair wages and benefits, or per mile rates, along with affordable insurance.

This wouldn’t really be a new union form; it borrows heavily from unions in construction and in the arts — and in trucking back when the National Master Freight Agreement set industrywide standards.

This kind of multi-employer and industrywide union only looks new becaue so many people (and workers) have come to associate unions with company or plant-level manufacturing unions.

One reason the Uber/Lyft example may help us rediscover forms of unionism that fit the “new economy” is the stunning gap between the rhetoric of the “sharing economy” — and the rhetoric of a harmonious partnership between ride-share companies and drivers — and the reality of a downward wage and upward hours spiral.

When the reality is so far from the rhetoric it calls the question: how can we create a sharing economy in which workers actually do thrive?

And having that question called is helpful.