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With help from Teamsters, LA Uber drivers try to organize

Photo by Mike/anotherpintplease via Flickr Creative Commons

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Uber's had a tough go of it lately, facing increased regulation from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Legislature, sharp criticism from the CPUC and the L.A. City Council, and a string of bad headlines.

The company was also recently valued at $18.2 billion, so it's hard to feel too bad for Uber, but now you can add another challenge: the beginnings of a movement to organize Los Angeles drivers. Seattle drivers organized last month.

Organizers are expecting up to 500 Uber drivers – supported by Teamsters Local 986 – to hold a demonstration Tuesday morning in front of the Uber offices in Santa Monica. 

Uber calls its drivers "partners," but Joseph DeWolf, a spokesman for drivers who are trying to organize says they often feel they get the short end of the stick.

“From almost all accounts – at least from the driver’s perspective – [Uber is] not a very good partner," said DeWolf. "It’s very difficult for drivers to express their viewpoints or to complain without the fear that there’s going to be some form of punitive reaction from Uber.”  

DeWolf cited a recent mandate from Uber requiring all Uber Black drivers with cars older than 2010 to switch over to UberX within two weeks (they later switched it four), where they will make less money. He also said the system where passengers rate their drivers is unfair.

Drivers also support California Assembly Bill 2293, which Uber steadfastly opposes. It would require ridesharing companies to buy insurance for vehicles for whenever drivers activate their app, as opposed to just when they're carrying passengers.

Uber drivers are independent contractors, so they can't form a union, which is why they're trying to form an association, which would represent not just all Uber drivers but all those for Lyft and Sidecar.

"We're in the early stages but our ranks are growing," said DeWolf. "Right now, there's probably interest of up to a thousand drivers."

Uber didn't respond to a request for comment.