Teamsters to Uber: If we can’t beat you, we’ll join you

DC Taxicab Protest

As hundreds of cab drivers ensnarled traffic in downtown Washington, D.C. this morning at the behest of the Teamsters Local 922, the Council of the District of Columbia passed trailblazing legislation that “[embraces] innovation, [supports] consumer choice and [empowers] small business owners,” according to a post on Uber’s blog.

From the BuzzFeed account:

The controversial bill [B20-753], dubbed the Vehicle-for-Hire Innovation Act of 2014, has been heavily opposed by the taxi unions for not creating a level playing field but praised by Uber for codifying safety standards they say have already been in place.

The legislation “could be a model for the rest of the country and maybe the world,” said David Plouffe, Uber’s chief strategist and former aide to President Barack Obama, in a Q & A session with the Washington Post.

That’s great, right? A win for consumers, who are overwhelmingly pleased with Uber’s service, and entrepreneurs, who are clamoring to drive for Uber and other ride-sharing apps.

The legislation does create a stricter regulatory framework for UberX than the existing framework for DC cabs, as indicated in this side-by-side comparison:

DC Uber Regulations

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray must sign the bill before it goes into effect.

But what’s most interesting about the latest development is a move by the Teamsters — the very same organization that has sought for months to snuff out the taxicab competition — to attract Uber drivers to their ranks.

While Teamsters Local 922 worked to stop Uber and Lyft from operating in D.C. — through driver protests outside Council meetings to putting pressure on elected officials to causing massive traffic jams in the nation’s most congested city — other Locals are working to attract Uber and Lyft drivers.

A BuzzFeed report from late August reveals the Teamsters Union in Seattle and parts of California are siding with ride-sharing drivers in an odd move that’s inconsistent with their East Coast counterpart:

The Teamsters think they can have it both ways — organizing drivers from Uber and Lyft on the West Coast and defending the taxi unions on the East Coast.

In Seattle, the Teamsters have aligned with both traditional taxi drivers and drivers who use apps like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. The recently created California App-Based Drivers’ Association, an affiliate of the Teamsters, is recruiting ride-sharing app drivers in some of the Golden State’s largest cities. And representatives say that though there’s nothing in the works as of yet, they wouldn’t be opposed to having traditional cabbies sign on as well.

But back east in D.C., the Teamsters refuse to work with the Uber drivers. The union said Uber and Lyft drivers in D.C. are operating “illegally,” and before they even consider working with them, they’ll have to adhere to local law.

In fact, the Teamsters are working directly against Uber.

Kudos to the Washington D.C. Council for establishing a framework for UberX to operate legally within the city, but Uber and Lyft drivers should take heed: When a Teamsters Local 922 representative comes knocking to encourage you organize, remember they were the driving force behind keeping you out of our nation’s capital.

Update: The Teamsters tweeted their response and issued a statement to the D.C. Council’s decision today:

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