Drivers turn on Uber, demand $15 minimum wage

Uber drivers will join in a nationwide “fight for $15” demonstration as part of a larger campaign by activists to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Drivers in two dozen cities including Boston, Denver, Miami and San Francisco will reportedly join protesters in nearly 250 American cities and at 20 of the nation’s busiest airports Tuesday.

The Service Employees International Union organized the effort. It has focused on raising the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour. The fight is focused on increasing wages not just for traditional low-wage service employees, but also workers who are a part of the “gig economy.”

Uber drivers are currently represented by the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), which Uber agreed to create in conjunction with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). IDG is not a union, meaning its members do not have the right to collectively bargain.

IDG, established in May, provides drivers with professional arbitration, discounted legal assistance and a monthly meeting with Uber management to air out grievances and concerns.

According to Bloomberg, IDG is funded by Uber, and that the decision to create the association is actually a strategy to avoid full-on unionization by the drivers. “Its very existence helps the company [Uber] resist formal unionization,” Arun Sundararajan, a business professor at New York University who researches the economics of the tech industry, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “This is just them planting something in the ground that might deter more contentious forms of labor organizing.”

Uber drivers have been waging their own campaign for specific reforms, such as the ability to tip drivers over the application. Over the summer, drivers petitioned Uber to include in-app tipping, even going as far as to sue Uber for classifying its drivers as contractors, when they asserted their status as employees.

The ability for Uber to maintain the classification of its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees is part of its business model. Independent contractors aren’t usually protected by employment anti-discrimination and workplace safety laws, independent contractors are not entitled to join or form a union, and they aren’t entitled to employment benefits such as health care and worker compensation.

Uber argues the model allows drivers the flexibility to choose their own hours, and the freedom to work as they please without a boss hovering over their shoulder. The model has faced opposition from drivers, including in California, where they filed a class-action lawsuit against the company.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a new $15 minimum wage for New York state in 2016, and the University of California has proposed to pay its low-wage employees $15. Florida’s minimum wage will rise Jan. 1, 2017. Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 in 2014, followed by San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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