Guilds: Uber’s Biggest Threat

Uber and Lyft can now unionize in Seattle. First, it’s rather absurd that there are laws preventing people from forming a free association in the first place, but that aside, when I read the article on Gizmodo, I had to comment that guilds would be far more suited to helping these drivers than unions.

Although the line between the two is rather vague in this case, Uber drivers are not employees; they are independent contractors. In fact, Uber is almost a guild. The only difference between Uber and guilds is that Uber is independently owned, rather than owned by the drivers themselves.

It may be that this is why the discussion is so complicated in this case. Usually a guild acts in the way that Uber would: to provide general services and provide work opportunities for the contractors, and a union negotiates with an employer, on behalf of a group of employees. The union in this case would be negotiating with Uber. So in that respect is is closer to a traditional union, even though they are representing independent contractors.

Alternative to Uber

It seems that in this case, the most logical option then would be to establish a new institution entirely, rather than try to negotiate with Uber. It wouldn’t be all that difficult. Uber and Lyft have the advantage of already being known, but a lot of people who use Uber and Lyft would probably be open to patronizing a company that is member owned. Since guilds are non profit, there would also be the added benefit of higher profits to the drivers, and as such, possibly lower rates to individuals.

The great thing about this option is that it wouldn’t require a huge amount of startup capital. The guild itself would just need a website and some advertising. The rest is just building up a customer base through repeat business, and that’s up to the members. Funding for the basic setup could be obtained through any of the many crowd funding systems available.