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Uber drivers in New York form labour association

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Uber drivers in New York state have formed an association to strengthen their hand in dealing with the ride-sharing service, labour leaders said on Sunday, days after the company agreed to a US$100 million settlement with drivers in two other states.

[NEW YORK] Uber drivers in New York state have formed an association to strengthen their hand in dealing with the ride-sharing service, labour leaders said on Sunday, days after the company agreed to a US$100 million settlement with drivers in two other states.

More than 1,000 Uber drivers signed membership cards with the association, known as the Amalgamated Local of Livery Employees in Solidarity, or Alles, the association said in a statement.

The recent settlement with Uber Drivers in California and Massachusetts over expense claims also allowed them to form associations that can bring grievances to the attention of management. The step follows a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board that blocked the formation of a traditional union for Uber drivers.

Alles said it would work to protect members against car companies, insurance firms and others, while urging New York City and state to tighten regulations on Uber and its ride-sharing competitors.

"Since Uber management controls the fares charged for the service, drivers want and need security and protection," the association said in a statement. "Uber financiers are forcing drivers to work long hours without any benefits or labor law protections."

Drivers are struggling to make car payments, maintain their vehicles and still have enough money left over to support their families, said Kevin Lynch, co-chair of the association. "It shows that people are really hurting," he said.

A representative of Uber Technologies Inc, based in San Francisco, was not immediately available for comment.

Uber, along with Lyft and other competitors, enable passengers to ask for rides with a smartphone app that sends the request to drivers who use their own cars. Many of the drivers are part-timers.

The business model has come under sharp criticism from established taxi companies and many cities and states because the drivers are unlicensed and the fares are untaxed.

A class-action suit by Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts claimed Uber drivers were employees and thus entitled to reimbursement of expenses. The company insists drivers are independent contractors.

The April 21 settlement, which still must be approved by a San Francisco federal judge, provides for a US$100 million payout to drivers in those two states on the basis of how many miles each has driven for Uber.

As a part of the settlement, the company can still treat drivers as contractors, but it agreed to allow them to form drivers' associations.

The case against Uber had been closely watched in Silicon Valley, as other companies in the on-demand tech economy share Uber's reliance on independent contractors. The class action had been scheduled for a trial in San Francisco federal court in June.

Nothing in the settlement prevents a court, or US labour authorities, from deeming Uber drivers employees, an attorney for the drivers said in a statement.

REUTERS