NLRB declares taxi drivers are employees, can vote to unionize

TUCSON, Ariz. (PAI) – For what the union involved says is the first time ever, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) declared taxi drivers are legally “employees” and have the right to vote to unionize, the Office and Professional Employees announced.

The Oct. 23 ruling, covering 200 AAA Transportation/Yellow Cab drivers in Tucson, Ariz., dismissed AAA’s appeal of NLRB Regional Director Cornele Overstreet’s decision for the drivers. The full board, in May, told Overstreet to re-rule on the case, under new conditions.

AAA contended that the drivers are “independent contractors” without the right to organize. Citing that ruling involving FedEx Home Delivery, the full board rejected AAA’s arguments and sent the case back to Overstreet.

Overstreet’s ruling clears the way for a recognition election for the Tucson Hacks Association, the Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) affiliate conducting the organizing drive among Tucson drivers. The election is expected before the end of this year.

OPEIU says the NLRB ruling is important because it puts official approval on the fact that taxi drivers, like millions of other such exploited workers nationwide, are not “independent contractors” but are really employees whose firms govern their wages and working conditions.

Those firms – such as taxi companies, port trucking firms and warehouse owners – argue that because workers are “free” to work on and off, they’re independent contractors, and cannot unionize. After hearing from both sides in the Tucson taxi case, the NLRB rejected the company’s argument.

In prior cases, including in Tucson, the NLRB ruled the taxi drivers are independent contractors, but the Tucson Hacks Association, with OPEIU’s help, appealed and the board reversed its prior ruling. OPEIU represents, among others, 4,000 taxi drivers in Las Vegas and San Diego.

“The key clarification was whether the individual” taxi driver “has an ‘actual entrepreneurial opportunity for loss or gain,'” OPEIU said. If she does, she’s an independent contractor. If he doesn’t, he’s an employee. The NLRB found that at both FedEx and in Tucson, the drivers did not have “real or feasible” opportunities for losses or gains. Therefore, they’re employees.

Overstreet said AAA controls the drivers through its dispatch system and thus can determine their income – and raise or lower it by changing dispatching orders and procedures.

“This group of drivers did as much as they could on their own,” said OPEIU President Michael Goodwin. “Within three months of turning to OPEIU, we’re pleased to see a favorable decision from the NLRB and are now preparing for an election.”

Photo: Taxi drivers will now be able to vote to unionize.   |   Frank Franklin II/AP


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.

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