Welcome Philadelphia Uber drivers to the Guild.
Jane Von Bergen Inquirer Staff
On the same day that Uber Technologies refunded millions of dollars to Philadelphia Uber limousine drivers for overcharges, the company told them that it would raise the amount it charged Uber drivers in commissions.
“I think it’s wrong,” said UberBlack driver, Ali Razak, 31, of South Philadelphia, who has been driving a limousine for four years and got a $3,996 refund. “I want to be happy today, but I’m going to fight tomorrow.”
News about the refunds and commission increase came as the drivers planned to announce Friday afternoon that they would be affiliating with a union. Razak is a leader of the Philadelphia Limousine Association of Uber and Limousine Drivers — the group that will be joining the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia Local-10 of the Communications Workers of America.
“The biggest problem is communication. We need someone who can bring them to the table,” Razak said.
“We thank the driver community for bringing this issue to our attention, and we apologize for this error,” local Uber representative Craig Ewer wrote in an email. “Uber is committed to working with our partners and continually finding ways to improve the driver experience.”
Ewer said the company would have no comment on local drivers affiliating with a union stating, “Drivers are independent contractors.”
The Newspaper Guild represents journalists at the Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. It also represents freelance writers. CWA represents Verizon employees and many state workers in New Jersey.
Affiliating with the union will give the drivers access to some limited medical benefits, legal assistance, and a vehicle for negotiation, said Bill Ross, the Newspaper Guild’s executive director.
“It’s always important that workers who feel they are being mistreated have a voice,” Ross said, who described the refund news as a coincidence but, “It’s a start.”
Razak said he estimates that Uber will pay about $4.3 million to local UberBlack drivers, based on about 900 vehicles piloted by 1,300 drivers. The company said it mistakenly deducted a 25 percent commission per ride instead of a 20 percent fee.
“Due to an error in our system, an updated service fee addendum was never released to you in the driver app as it should have been,” an email from the company read. “Because of this error we are refunding you 5% plus interest for all UberBlack trips completed from August 26th, 2015 until March 2nd, 2017.
“You will also receive a new addendum in the driver app stating that the correct service fee for UberBlack is 25%, which you will be charged going forward,” the email said.
The news comes as Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick copes with negative fallout from a YouTube dash cam video of him arguing over the fare structure with an UberBlack driver. “Some people don’t like to take responsibility … They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!,” Kalanick told the driver.
Since then, Kalanick issued a statement apologizing to the driver, saying he was ashamed of his behavior, and “must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.”
The union cannot help the drivers negotiate a collective-bargaining agreement, because only employees have the right to collectively bargain with employers. Whether the drivers are Uber employees or independent contractors is an issue in litigation nationwide, including a Philadelphia case.
“Our case is on track to be the first one to address the issue,” said the drivers’ attorney, Jeremy Abay, of Sacks, Weston, Diamond LLC.