The Transport Workers Union is about to stab gig workers in the back

See update for May 28, 2021, at end of post.

The Transport Workers Union is about to betray gig workers in the state of New York:[1]

The potential to offer political cover for the companies’ business models has given some labor advocates concern about potential deal-making. “There are reasons to be deeply skeptical about a ‘sectoral bargaining bill,’ brokered by the same app companies behind Prop 22, that locks workers out of universal employment protections,” said Brian Chen, an attorney at the pro-labor nonprofit National Employment Law Project. “It suggests that this isn’t really about allowing workers to build power together. It’s about employers bargaining down labor standards and undermining workers’ rights.”[2]

In the face of intractable and well funded company opposition, as with California’s Proposition 22,[3] and in the face of “an uphill battle to pass the PRO Act, a sweeping revamp of federal labor laws . . . which would make it much harder to claim workers are contractors,”[4] it’s certainly possible to view this effort as a labor union trying to get the best deal it can get.

But the move would blunt[5] a Biden administration push to end the “independent contractor” scam for gig workers (by requiring companies to correctly classify their workers as employees)[6] and comes at a time when Uber and Lyft, whose business models are dubious at best[7] and “rest on the claim that workers are independent contractors rather than employees entitled to full labor protections,”[8] including a measly minimum wage,[9] are having trouble attracting drivers, in significant part due to poor pay,[10] amid entirely fraudulent claims of a so-called “labor shortage,” which is really about employers resisting higher pay or, in more elemental form, any pay at all.[11]

It’s very, very hard for me, then, to see this as smart deal making on the part of the union, and very, very easy for me to see it instead as selling out gig workers. But unions have done it before.[12]

Update, May 28, 2021: Apparently, the Transport Workers Union has withdrawn its support for the deal.[13]

  1. [1]Josh Eidelson and Benjamin Penn, “Labor, Gig Companies Near Bargaining Deal in N.Y.,” Bloomberg, May 17, 2021,
  2. [2]Josh Eidelson and Benjamin Penn, “Labor, Gig Companies Near Bargaining Deal in N.Y.,” Bloomberg, May 17, 2021,
  3. [3]Kim Bojórquez, “Why are Black and Latino advocacy groups backing Uber, Lyft in California labor law fight?” Sacramento Bee, August 23, 2020,; Sophia Bollag, “California Uber, Lyft drivers to become employees under measure Gov. Gavin Newsom says he’ll sign,” Sacramento Bee, September 11, 2019,; Jessica Bursztynsky and Lauren Feiner, “Lyft may suspend service in California if court requires it to classify drivers as employees,” CNBC, August 12, 2020,; Alexia Fernández Campbell, “California is cracking down on the gig economy,” Vox, May 30, 2019,; Lauren Feiner, “Uber CEO says its service will probably shut down temporarily in California if it’s forced to classify drivers as employees,” CNBC, August 12, 2020,; Lauren Feiner, “Appeals court grants Uber and Lyft a temporary reprieve following threats to shut down in California,” CNBC, August 20, 2020,; Andrew J. Hawkins, “California seeks to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify drivers as employees within weeks,” Verge, June 24, 2020,; Andrew J. Hawkins, “California labor commissioner sues Uber and Lyft for alleged wage theft,” Verge, August 5, 2020,; Aaron Gordon, “Uber To California: Make Us,” Jalopnik, September 11, 2019,; Hastings College of the Law, “UC Hastings Professor, Academic Leaders Call for Support of AB5,” August 26, 2019,; Nathan Heller, “A New California Law Takes Aim at Uber and Lyft,” New Yorker, September 12, 2019,; Steven Hill, “The broken business model of Uber and Lyft is taking a heavy toll on society,” Fortune, December 19, 2020,; Michael Hiltzik, “How millions from Uber and Lyft are funding the harassment of a critic,” Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2020,; Michael Hiltzik, “Uber and Lyft just made their campaign to keep exploiting workers the costliest in history,” Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2020,; John Kingston, “Uber/Postmates Driver Loses Court Challenge To California’s AB5 Law,” Yahoo!, September 21, 2020,; Diane Mulcahy, “California’s New Gig Economy Law Is All Bark, No Bite,” Forbes, September 20, 2019,; Jeong Park, “Fact check: Will Uber, Lyft drivers get paid less than minimum wage under Proposition 22?” Sacramento Bee, September 24, 2020,; Jeong Park, “Uber, Lyft win approval of California gig worker measure,” Sacramento Bee, November 3, 2020,; Therese Poletti, “Uber and Lyft’s ‘day of reckoning’ is finally here,” MarketWatch, August 12, 2020,; San Jose Mercury News, “CPUC rules Uber, Lyft drivers are company employees,” Sacramento Bee, June 11, 2020,; Faiz Siddiqui, “Uber and Lyft must make their drivers in California full employees, judge rules,” Washington Post, August 10, 2020,; Faiz Siddiqui and Reed Albergotti, “Uber drivers sue app over ‘constant barrage’ pushing California anti-employment initiative,” Washington Post, October 22, 2020,; Kanishka Singh and Tina Bellon, “California appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must reclassify drivers as employees,” Reuters, October 22, 2020,; Jonathan Stempel, “Judge rejects Uber, Lyft bids to delay California driver injunction,” Yahoo!, August 13, 2020,
  4. [4]Josh Eidelson and Benjamin Penn, “Labor, Gig Companies Near Bargaining Deal in N.Y.,” Bloomberg, May 17, 2021,
  5. [5]Josh Eidelson and Benjamin Penn, “Labor, Gig Companies Near Bargaining Deal in N.Y.,” Bloomberg, May 17, 2021,
  6. [6]Nandita Bose, “Analysis: U.S. Labor Secretary’s next move on gig workers likely to include company probes – experts,” Reuters, May 7, 2021,; Sarah Jaffe, “The battle for the future of ‘gig’ work,” Vox, May 18, 2021,; Timothy B. Lee, “Uber, Lyft stocks plunge after Biden official says drivers are employees,” Ars Technica, April 29, 2021,; Eric Morath, “Biden Blocks Trump-Era Gig-Worker Rule,” Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2021,
  7. [7]Uber and Lyft continue to lose vast amounts of money. Their path to profitability, initially premised on self-driving car technology, which would eliminate drivers altogether, has been punctuated by recurring cuts in driver pay, engineering and other staff layoffs, a jettisoning of hugely expensive self-driving development units, and recurring doubts about the plausibility of that path: Rich Alton, “Basic economics means Uber and Lyft can’t rely on driverless cars to become profitable,” MarketWatch, August 12, 2019,; Matthew Beedham, “Uber: Is this the beginning of the end for the ride-hailing Goliath?” Next Web, March 2, 2021,; Igor Bonifacic, “Lyft is selling its self-driving unit to Toyota for $550 million,” Engadget, April 26, 2021,; Eliot Brown, “Uber Wants to Be the Uber of Everything—But Can It Make a Profit?” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2019,; Eliot Brown, “Uber Posts Its Largest Quarterly Loss,” Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2019,; Eliot Brown, “Lyft Raises 2019 Revenue Outlook and Sees Smaller Annual Loss,” Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2019,; Megan Rose Dickey, “Uber lays off 435 people across engineering and product teams,” TechCrunch, September 10, 2019,; Richard Durant, “Uber’s Profitability Problem Is Structural,” Seeking Alpha, August 21, 2019,; Ryan Felton, “Uber Is Doomed,” Jalopnik, February 24, 2017,; Laura Forman, “Uber, Lyft Face a No-Sharing Economy,” Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2020,; Edward Helmore, “Will Uber ever make money? Day of reckoning looms for ride-sharing firm,” Guardian, August 4, 2019,; Sebastian Herrera and Heather Somerville, “Uber Shares Hit New Low as Post-IPO Lockup Expires,” Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2019,″; Sarah Jaffe, “The battle for the future of ‘gig’ work,” Vox, May 18, 2021,; Kia Kokalitcheva, “Uber says it’s likely to pay Waymo or revamp its self-driving tech,” Axios, November 7, 2019,; Kirsten Korosec, “Uber in talks to sell ATG self-driving unit to Aurora,” TechCrunch, November 13, 2020,; Timothy B. Lee, “Uber, losing billions, freezes engineering hires,” Ars Technica, August 9, 2019,; Aarian Marshall, “Gig Companies Fear a Worker Shortage, Despite a Recession,” Wired, March 5, 2021,; Megan McArdle, “Uber can’t keep bleeding money, can it? It apparently thinks it can,” Washington Post, November 5, 2019,; Tom McKay, “Surprising No One, Uber Continues to Hemorrhage Cash,” Gizmodo, November 4, 2019,; Christopher Mims, “In a Tight Labor Market, Gig Workers Get Harder to Please,” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2019,; Patrick Howell O’Neill, “Just In Time For Its Big IPO, Uber Loses $1 Billion,” Gizmodo, April 26, 2019,; Annie Palmer, “Uber falls to all-time low as investors grow more skeptical,” CNBC, August 12, 2019,; Dan Primack, “Uber’s IPO got caught in a perfect storm,” Axios, May 11, 2019,; Preetika Rana, “Uber Ridership Fails to Recover as Pandemic Drives Another Big Loss,” Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2020,; Erik Sherman, “Yesterday, Shareholders Bailed on Uber. Today, Insiders Got Their Chance,” Fortune, November 6, 2019,; Faiz Siddiqui and Greg Bensinger, “Uber’s first day of trading ended deep in the red over gig-economy fears,” Washington Post, May 10, 2019,; Heather Somerville, “Uber Shedding About 350 Jobs to Shore Up Business,” Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2019,; Heather Somerville, “Uber Booked Another Quarterly Loss as Revenue Climbed,” Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2019,; Heather Somerville, “Uber Sells Self-Driving-Car Unit to Autonomous-Driving Startup,” Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2020,; Heather Somerville and Mark Maurer, “Uber Cuts More Than 400 Technical Jobs,” Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2019,; Georgia Wells, “Uber Cites Tight Competition After Posting $1 Billion Loss,” Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2019,; Stephen Wilmot, “Uber’s Long Road to Profits,” Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2019,; Julia Carrie Wong, “Disgruntled drivers and ‘cultural challenges’: Uber admits to its biggest risk factors,” Guardian, April 12, 2019,; Michael Wursthorn, “Lyft Shares Rally on Hopes Price Increases Will Drive Profit,” Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2019,
  8. [8]Josh Eidelson and Benjamin Penn, “Labor, Gig Companies Near Bargaining Deal in N.Y.,” Bloomberg, May 17, 2021,
  9. [9]Dean Baker, “This is What Minimum Wage Would Be If It Kept Pace with Productivity,” Center for Economic Policy and Research, January 21, 2020,; Kate Gibson, “Minimum wage doesn’t cover the rent anywhere in the U.S.,” CBS News, June 14, 2018,
  10. [10]Laura Forman, “Uber and Lyft Need a Sharper Turn,” Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2021,; Sarah Jaffe, “The battle for the future of ‘gig’ work,” Vox, May 18, 2021,; Farhad Manjoo, “The Uber I.P.O. Is a Moral Stain on Silicon Valley,” New York Times, May 1, 2019,; Dhruv Mehrotra and Aaron Gordon, “Uber And Lyft Take A Lot More From Drivers Than They Say,” Jalopnik, August 26, 2019,; Alexa Noel, “Revised MIT Study Says Uber, Lyft Drivers Make About $8 or $10 per Hour,” Points Guy, March 8, 2018,; Kari Paul, “Uber drivers plan shutdown over ‘poverty wages’ as company goes public,” Guardian, April 25, 2019,; José Rodríguez, Jr., “The Aftermath Of Prop 22 Is Not As Happy As Big Tech Promised,” Jalopnik, February 18, 2021,; Alexander Sammon, “Prop 22 Is Here, and It’s Already Worse Than Expected,” American Prospect, January 15, 2021,; Faiz Siddiqui, “Where have all the Uber drivers gone?” Washington Post, May 7, 2021,; Faiz Siddiqui and Andrew Van Dam, “As Uber avoided paying into unemployment, the federal government helped thousands of its drivers weather the pandemic,” Washington Post, March 16, 2021,
  11. [11]Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2014,; David Benfell, “About that alleged ‘labor shortage,’” Not Housebroken, May 17, 2021, Eric Levitz, “5 Explanations for April’s Bad Jobs Report,” New York, May 7, 2021,; Heather Long, “It’s not a ‘labor shortage.’ It’s a great reassessment of work in America,” Washington Post, May 7, 2021,; Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021,
  12. [12]Sarah Jaffe, “The battle for the future of ‘gig’ work,” Vox, May 18, 2021,
  13. [13]Michael Hiltzik, “Uber reneges on the ‘flexibility’ it gave drivers to win their support for Prop. 22,” Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2021,

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