Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Uber Sent The Seattle City Council A Letter

If anyone thinks that Uber is anything other than another corporation seeking high profits and political  influence, I would strongly reconsider that position.   I know they like to position themselves as some kind of self-styled humanitarian organization, steadfastly dedicated to assisting both the individual and planet by, one, offering work opportunities, and two, reducing carbon emissions by providing people transportation alternatives. In other words, they present themselves as a benign company out to save the world  while simultaneously giving all those bad cabbies the beating we deserve.  Clearly they have achieved the latter, and now they are focusing upon their own independent operators.  Is anyone surprised?  I for one, am not.

I guess it might be considered old fashioned but I believe communication, especially written communication, to be sacred.  Given that thought I begin this commentary concerning Uber's letter writing with a poem by Robert Graves (1895-1985), his "History of the Word."

 Uber  appears, at both first, second and third glance, to be little interested in either history or written propriety. Why care when you don't have to be, is seemingly their operational attitude.  And my response to that is simple, that caring is the one and only correct approach, something unfortunately lost upon the majority; and certainly, minus doubt, upon rapacious corporations solely concerned with equity and remuneration.  It is not a good situation, blind to life as it truly is, thinking money and money only the core sustenance for all individuals, ignoring any and all competing imperatives.

History of the Word

The Word that in the beginning was the Word
For two or three, but elsewhere spoke unheard,
Found words to interpret it, which for a season
Prevailed until ruled out by Law and Reason
Which, by a lax interpretation cursed,
In Laws and Reasons logically dispersed;
These, in their turn, found they could do no better
Then fall to Letters and each claim a letter.
In the beginning then, the Word alone,
But now the various tongue-tied Lexicon
In perfect impotence the day nearing
When every ear shall lose its sense of hearing
And every mind by knowledge be close-shuttered---
But two or three, that hear the Word uttered.

You might remember that the Seattle City Council voted 8-0 to allow for-hire drivers (Uber, Lyft, flat-rate, taxi) to form legal representational unions.  This was, or is, the first effort of this kind in the nation, given that these kinds of drivers are usually considered independent contractors, and thus exempt from union organization or other related labor activities.  To that end, both Uber and its highly influential and powerful surrogate, the United States Chamber of Commerce, have objected to Seattle's effort to balance the labor playing field.

Now it has been reported that the US Chamber of Commerce have just filed a suit against the City of Seattle in the United District Court for the Western District of Washington.  Their point of view upon unionization is clearly expressed in the opinion that the new ordinance "will burden innovation, increase prices, and reduce quality and services for consumers." That this statement can be construed as self-serving should be obvious.

The two following quotes are from Amanda Eversole, the US Chamber of Commerce President of their  "Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation.":

"This ordinance threatens the ability of not just of Seattle, but of every community across the country, to grow with and benefit from our evolving economy."

It is clear that the Chamber of Commerce fears, that if successful, union organization of Uber and Lyft drivers will, like a virus, infect similar workers across the country.

Another similar quote states:

"Technology companies are leading the charge when it comes to empowering people with the flexibility and choice that comes with being your own boss, and that is something to be championed, not stifled."

One problem with this expressed sentiment is that Uber drivers are not their own boss in any true sense, given that Uber at any time can sever drivers from Uber's operational umbilical cord minus warning or legal recourse.  If they were their "own boss," they certainly wouldn't be firing themselves.  Is Eversole perpetuating a fantasy?  I will let you and the courts decide that one.

Prior to the Chamber's actions, Seattle's Uber general manager, Brooke Steger, wrote a letter to Seattle's Director of Finance and Administrative Services, Fred Podesta, stating in part, "four core principles to ensure fairness in decisions that will impact the livelihood of thousands."  That this letter was truly directed toward Council-member Mike O'Brien and the other Seattle City Council members is transparently clear.

The "four principles" are as follows:

---Every affected driver should have the right to vote.

---Every affected driver should be fully informed before voting.

---Every vote should be fairly counted.

---FAS should look to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules and case law.

Steger also says, representing Uber's official stance that

"We look forward to engaging in the upcoming rule making to ensure drivers can make a fully informed choice about representation."

What this statement doesn't address is why does contention amongst the drivers exist in the first place?  Is all this just some kind of plot to foil Uber's efforts to transform the labor world into something benefiting every worker?  Uber seems to be saying that, with that nasty Seattle City Council not understanding Uber's corporate goodness.  Why every new Uber driver receives a $100.00 bonus after their first ten trips. Isn't that just and fair and humane?

One might say of course that it was the City Council who created this whole mess by killing its initial ordinance governing Uber and other TNC companies.  And the individual perhaps most responsible for the situation we are now dealing with locally, Mayor Ed Murray, has, so far, refused to sign into law the City Council Union Bill, saying it would be "burdensome administrating the law.''  Any less than the financial burden all of us are now carrying since his Uber intervention?  I doubt that.

But there is someone who does know personally the implications demonstrated by Uber and the US Chamber of Commerce, and that is my "Uber insider," telling me Uber has been lobbying him for months to not support unionization. He says that full-timers like him serve 80 percent of Uber business, meaning that he, and others like him, should decide whether to organize or not, not the part-timers who have little to no true investment in their Uber future."  He did say that he has, now over five months later, finally received his for-hire driving license. It also allows him to drive a taxi. Lucky him!

One point concerning this Seattle effort to allow union organization is extremely clear.  Like many other labor efforts over the past 150 years of American worker history, management will not give in without a protracted fight, high-priced lawyers replacing thugs and "bought" police to enforce owner interests.  Anyone historically familiar with owner and management statements will recognize the sentiments expressed by Eversole and Steger, nothing new spoken beneath the "Labor Sun."

One would think their  rhetoric would change but clearly it hasn't, disinformation the same now as in 1915 as it was also in Catherine the Great's dialogue concerning Russia's serfs.  Beware, brothers and sisters, is all I can say.  At least Catherine left the world a great art museum.  Was the abuse and death of millions worth all that beautiful art residing in the Hermitage along the Neva River?  Certainly not!  Is Uber and Lyft convenience, and a few dollars saved, worth the pain and suffering of countless independent operators?  I don't think so. Do you?

I leave you with this quote taken from a New York Times article concerning oil prices, taken from the Tuesday, March 8th edition:

"In commodity circles, low prices cure low prices, just like high prices cure high prices," said Jason Schenker, founder of Prestige Economics, a market research firm.

What the hell does that mean?  Whatever it means, I know it applies to Uber and their operating philosophy. Run for the taxi hills is all I can say!

Please note:  The quotes and some of the information included in this posting was taken from articles written by Taylor Soper, Geekwire writer and columnist. See his website for many original articles concerning the transportation industry.  He had the initial scoop concerning the letter.  Good for him

No comments:

Post a Comment