The Labor Education Research Association (LERA) held its annual meeting in Minneapolis at the end of May. LERA is an organization where professionals in labor relations can network and share ideas about current developments in the field. 

As our Union’s Director of Organizing and Strategic Campaigns, I was invited to present our cutting edge work organizing taxis and Uber and Lyft drivers.

We have successfully organized Uber and Lyft drivers into an independent association to provide them with much needed representation.  After deducting the costs of operation, many of these drivers earn under minimum wage, some as little as three dollars per hour, with few rights or benefits. Along with organizing the drivers, we were able to pass legislation through the City of Seattle - the first of its kind in the country - that would allow independent contractors driving taxis, Uber and Lyft and other transportation services, the right to collective bargaining.

The conference attendees were extremely interested and supportive of our work. They recognize that the so-called “gig economy” has the potential to impact all jobs in virtually all our jurisdictions. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors. Imagine if a manager could summon a workforce of independent contractors at the press of a button on a smart phone and only keep them employed as long as they are needed. As more workers become independent contractors, this will put downward pressure on wages and benefits affecting all of our members.  We must find a strategy that gives these workers a voice.

Independent contractors like the drivers for Uber and Lyft take all the risk while the lion’s share of the profit goes to the companies. Unless Unions can figure out a way to build worker power for workers in this new economic model, the impact on the middle class and working families will be disastrous.

The attendees at the conference - some of the biggest names in the field - affirmed our strategy and complimented us for the work that we are doing to ensure that all workers are able to earn a living wage and that all workers have a voice in the workplace.