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The Flop of Uber Drivers’ National Protest Shows How Hard It Is for Them to Organize

In this new era of labor, the companies hold all the power.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The failure of this weekend’s nationwide protest planned by Uber drivers illustrates how hard it is for ride-hailing drivers to collectively organize and bargain for what they want.

Drivers used social media — primarily Facebook and Twitter — to spread word of the job action, which sought to pressure Uber to add a tipping option and raise the minimum fare, among other demands. But there’s no central place for the independent contractors who work for the ride-hailing service to communicate.

“You guys didn’t plan this strike very well,” said one driver on an Uber driver Facebook page. “I heard about it on the radio while … on the road today in San Francisco and there was a lot of other Uber drivers working.”

The Uber app that connects drivers to their fares doesn’t connect drivers to one another. And the company’s Uber driver Facebook page is monitored by Uber staff, who have reportedly deleted critical posts in the past. Unofficial online forums of drivers, such as uberpeople.net, have been created — but not all workers are aware of these resources.

The Teamsters union is attempting to organize drivers who say they’re working longer hours for less money. But this, too, introduces complications. The Teamsters also represent taxi drivers in Washington, D.C., who earlier this year sued the District of Columbia over a policy that it claims gives an unfair competitive advantage to ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

Even if the Teamsters organize Uber and Lyft drivers, there’s other challenges for their collective bargaining. The drivers are independent contractors and therefore have less rights than employees in the eyes of the National Labor Relations Board. For example, if contractors strike they could lose their positions, whereas employees are legally protected.

It’s a tradeoff — as contractors Uber drivers have more flexibility in their schedule than employees would, and they have the freedom to work for multiple companies. But they have less power in negotiating for fare rates and certain working conditions.

It’s a labor challenge that becomes increasingly important as Uber grows across the country and the number of active Uber drivers in the U.S. swells to 327,000. The company touts the service as a source of employment for those struggling to find jobs, and political candidates like Jeb Bush have taken up that rallying cry.

Some Uber drivers who considered unplugging from the app this weekend worried about retaliation. A rumor circulated on uberpeople.net that those who participated in the strike could be deactivated from the service.

In a Facebook message to Re/code, the organizer of the weekend protest pointed to screenshots of surge pricing in different cities to show the strike was effective.

“Uber has not responded to us yet, but we weren’t expecting them to right away anyways,” said Abe Husein, an Uber driver from Kansas City. “This is just the beginning. We are going to continue to hold strikes/protest across the nation until Uber meets our demand.”

Dave Sutton, a spokesman for the Who’s Driving You? campaign started by the the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, agreed.

“Uber’s ability to frame itself as a job creator is key to its legislative power. This strike belies the idea that Uber jobs are good jobs,” Sutton said. “If the protests continue with increased driver participation they could meaningfully erode Uber’s political power.”

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.