Uber drivers will get tips now. Is this a way to discourage unionizing? | KUOW News and Information

Uber drivers will get tips now. Is this a way to discourage unionizing?

Jun 21, 2017

Passengers who use the ride-hailing app Uber will now have the option to tip their driver.

The company has refused to offer it until now, even though drivers have long requested it and competing app Lyft already allows tipping.

Uber officials say they're testing out the tip function in Seattle, Minneapolis and Houston as part of an effort to make changes drivers have asked for.

Brooke Steger, Uber's general manager for Seattle, said the fares will not change and drivers will keep 100 percent of the tip.

Steger: “It's a really deep commitment to listening to them; this was our number one requested option from drivers so I'm thrilled that we have incorporated it."

Drivers will also starting getting paid to wait for passengers and the cancelation window for passengers is being reduced to two minutes. Steger said other improvements for drivers are coming soon.

Uber officials say drivers have given positive feedback about the changes, some expressing appreciation that the company is listening to them.

But for other drivers tips are not enough. Drivers have also called for higher wages, and many of them are in touch with the union Teamsters Local 117.

Dawn Gearhart is the union’s association policy coordinator, and says the tips announcement is "too little, too late."  That's the sentiment she's hearing from drivers.

Gearhart: "It's pretty routine that an employer, when a unionization drive starts, they'll say, 'OK, now you can all get bonuses.' But workers understand that just as soon as those improvements came they can go away."

There's an effort afoot for Seattle drivers to join the Teamsters union. Gearhart said drivers should form a union so they can negotiate wages, tips and other workplace standards in the long run.

Gearhart: "Drivers still want the opportunity to sit across the bargaining table from the company and talk about many of the issues that affect them, like temporary rate cuts, arbitrary rate cuts, or introduction of policies like tipping."

The unionization effort in Seattle is currently on hold because of legal action taken by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents Uber and Lyft.

The tipping feature comes as Uber works to repair its reputation. The company has been the focus of recent revelations of sexual harassment in its offices.