Uber called its recent union deal ‘historic.’ A new complaint alleges it was actually against the law—and not in its ‘best interest.’
At first glance, the latest news about Uber’s efforts to unionize looks like the latest episode of the company’s failed effort to unionize a large slice of its workforce. After multiple attempts, however, the union did manage to secure a deal with the company early last month to represent about 3,000 employees in some of its biggest regions. The deal called for the union to represent the drivers of Uber’s “surge economy”—that is, those drivers who provide in-demand rides for anyone from tourists to the rich, and who are often not offered other ride-hailing options. (In August, Uber acquired and then merged with its rival Lyft to create a joint venture that’s the primary alternative to Uber.)
But the contract is just as likely to set the stage for a new battle in the legal war over work rules and the role of unions in the technology industry. Earlier this month, Uber filed a class-action lawsuit against the International Franchise Association, claiming that the group and its members had violated a federal law that dictates union contracts must be “nonarbitrary” and “reasonably related” to the “overall economic interests” represented. Uber argued that it did not have to negotiate with the International Franchise Association because as a for-profit company, it’s not a union.
Uber’s claim is that the union law is an unconstitutional abrogation of its legal right to manage its business without interference from the government. In response, the Franchise Association argues that it doesn’t violate any laws and has provided a legal analysis of the relevant case law that indicates that the law is indeed constitutional.
What’s not clear is why the company wants to be treated in this way. As the company’s chief legal officer Arianna Jones recently explained to me in a phone interview, it’s clearly not because it’s good for drivers to have union representation or to have workers that have greater rights. Uber is trying to negotiate better wages and benefits, and “we are not the one looking