A union representing Connecticut taxi drivers is among several labor groups supporting a legislative proposal that would raise wages for taxis’ biggest direct competitor: Uber and Lyft drivers.
The United Auto Workers, which represents taxi drivers in Stamford, testified Thursday in favor of a bill that would block “transportation network companies” from taking more than more than 25 percent of the fee a person pays for a ride or more than 25 percent of a drivers’ total fares in a day.
“The transportation network economy should be regulated in the same way that the taxi industry is, so that it’s a fair playing field,” said Beverley Brakeman, director of UAW Region 9A. “The gig economy is sort of the next level of workers who are being exploited.”
Connecticut’s Uber and Lyft drivers are not unionized. They face an uphill battle to organize because they are considered independent contractors by the National Labor Relations Board.
The bill is part of a nationwide backlash against the two largest ride-sharing companies, which have long rebuffed regulations imposed on traditional taxi service by claiming they are an app-based service connecting independent drivers to fares, not a livery company.
An unofficial coalition of Uber and Lyft drivers from New Haven successfully lobbied the legislature to consider this proposed law. Seventy-five drivers came to the Capitol Thursday to testify in favor of it.
Uber opposes the bill, arguing it might actually “significantly reduce” drivers’ earnings.
“The bill is predicated upon the incorrect assumption that drivers are paid a set percentage of riders’ fares,” said De’Shawn Wright, senior manager of public policy for Uber Technologies Inc. “Riders pay an upfront price, while a drivers’ fare is based on a pre-set time and distance rate.”
In previous years, unions have favored tighter restrictions on Uber and Lyft. Two years ago, the General Assembly passed a compromise bill that created rules for ride-sharing companies and required background checks and registration for drivers — but did not address pay for the drivers.
The state requires Uber and Lyft drivers to have insurance that covers bodily injury of at least $1 million. Uber said it now pays for this insurance, but it would not pay for the insurance if the bill passed.
“Drivers, most of whom are part-time, would have to pay around $4,500 to operate in Connecticut,” Wright said.
New York City passed a minimum pay ordinance for app-based drivers in December, setting an earnings floor of $17.22 an hour. Seattle is also considering legislation to set minimum charges across all parts of the for-hire transportation industry.
Connecticut’s proposal is different, but it has won the support of some Democratic lawmakers.
Other unions are also backing the Uber and Lyft drivers. Three Teamsters union representatives attended a meeting of the New Haven drivers in February to show their support.
“We’ll commit our lobbyist,” said Dave Lucas, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Union Local 671.
Stacy Zimmerman, associate director of the Connecticut State Council of the Service Employees International Union, said SEIU is also backing the bill.