David Plouffe remarks on creation of Independent Drivers Guild

Below are remarks, as prepared for delivery, by David Plouffe regarding a new agreement between Uber and the International Association of Machinists.

Thank you, Josh. I am delighted to be here this morning in New York with the International Association of Machinists to launch a new, independent guild that will represent drivers who use Uber in the city. This innovative agreement is designed to:

  • Improve communication between Uber and our driver-partners;
  • Provide benefits without jeopardizing the independence and flexibility drivers love; and
  • Give drivers who have been barred from the app an additional voice in the deactivation appeals process.

The ability to push a button and get a ride within minutes is changing the way people move around cities. Apps like Uber are a proven complement to public transit: they also help increase transportation options in traditionally underserved areas, cut drunk driving and reduce congestion through carpooling.

What’s less well understood are the positive social and economic benefits that come from being able to push a button and earn money. Today, 20 million Americans work fewer hours than they would like due to existing commitments, for example childcare or school. More worryingly, it’s getting harder to find flexible work in the US: a recent study by the University of Chicago found that half of all hourly workers now have no say over the schedule set by their employers.

Unsurprisingly drivers who use Uber tell us they love the freedom to decide when, where and for how long to work. It’s about the independence that comes from being your own boss. As important, drivers can earn money right away. In a world where 47 percent of Americans say they couldn’t pay an unexpected $400 bill, on-demand apps are a real alternative to debt.

However, as Uber has grown—we’ll be six years old this summer—we haven’t always done a great job working with drivers. As our CEO, Travis Kalanick said two weeks ago, that’s not good enough. It’s time for a change. And that’s why today’s agreement is important.

The newly formed Independent Drivers’ Guild, which will be an affiliate of the Machinists Union, will give additional protections to all current and future drivers who use Uber in New York City—and at no cost to the drivers themselves. These new protections include:

  • Regular meetings with Josh and the management team here in the City;
  • The ability for individual drivers to appeal if Uber denies them access to the appas well as representation from the Guild during the appeals process;
  • Discounted legal services, life and disability insurance, education courses and roadside assistance; and
  • Access to an online worker center, which will provide a central hub for driver assistance and resources.

Many drivers in New York City use Uber over 35 hours each week, in other words pretty much full time. That’s very different from the rest of the U.S. where the majority of drivers use our app less than 10 hours a week. New York is also different in that the City taxes rides with Uber or Lyft more heavily than trips taken in taxis and other private hire vehicles.

It’s why we’ve agreed to campaign with the Machinists Union for a level playing field—with rides on Uber, taxi and private hire being taxed at the same rate for the first time. This would not only mean more money for drivers, it would also free up resources for a new benefits fund administered by the Guild and used to cover benefits such as paid time off or parental leave, for example.

Today’s agreement is part of an ongoing effort by Uber to work more closely with drivers who use our app. That’s primarily about better communications, including listening to feedback more carefully. For example, we’ve just started a pilot to have passengers pay when they keep drivers waiting for more than two minutes. We’ve also added a feature in the app that enables drivers at JFK and LaGuardia to estimate how long they’ll have to wait for a fare. These are both the direct result of feedback we’ve had in New York.

In addition, we’re also making some more fundamental changes to the way we operate around the country. We recently published a driver deactivation policy, which explains in simple, easy to understand language why a driver might lose access to the Uber app. And in Seattle we’ve started a new appeals process—where highly rated Uber partners hear the appeals of drivers who have been deactivated. Both these changes will significantly increase transparency and accountability.

We’re also happy to announce today that Freelancers Union, a longtime leader in advocating for independent workers, will advise Uber on how to best bring flexible benefits to independent workers in the on-demand economy.

In closing: the ability to push a button and get work has brought newfound independence and flexibility to people all across America. That freedom means every driver uses Uber differently: some for just a few hours a week, others all day, every day. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach that can address the myriad different needs of the drivers using our app. It’s why creative, individually tailored solutions—like today’s agreement with the Machinists Union—are the best way forward.

We look forward to working closely with the Guild over the years ahead.