Uber uses customer service reps to push anti-union message to drivers

Once Seattle became the first city where Uber drivers were allowed to unionize, the drivers started getting "customer service" calls that polled them on their satisfaction with the company, while ham-handedly pushing anti-union messages.

Ironically, Uber has been aggressively offshoring its call-center jobs, and laying off tons of those customer service reps, with the result that the call-center reps rebelled in subtle and not-so-subtle ways as they found themselves in solidarity with the drivers against a mutual enemy: Uber.

Uber worries that a successful unionization drive in Seattle would be the thin edge of the wedge, with other cities to follow, giving drivers a say in pricing, ratings, and other important aspects of their lives. As Seattle Uber driver Don Creery put it, Uber's position that drivers are independent contractors means, "We're small business owners who are not allowed to charge what we want or need for the service we're performing."

When conflicts between Uber and drivers arose, customer service reps tended to sympathize with the drivers, says the former rep who spoke with Quartz. And as Uber terminated more US-based reps' contracts, that solidarity increased. "It definitely eroded our loyalty to Uber when they started outsourcing, and we started to feel more like drivers in the way we were treated," the rep says. "We didn't feel [the script] was appropriate at all."

Uber's cautions about unionizing aren't necessarily misguided. There are two federal laws under which Uber could challenge Seattle's ordinance, and any litigation could take years to resolve. Even were the ordinance to move forward unobstructed, it would likely be a year to 18 months before Uber and its drivers reached any new agreements under collective bargaining, says Mike O'Brien, the Seattle city council member who sponsored it.

Uber is using its US customer service reps to deliver its anti-union message
[Alison Griswold/Quartz]