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Even with an Uber drivers’ ‘union,’ little has changed in their fight for in-app tipping

The group has launched an online petition and awareness campaign similar to those launched by drivers before the Independent Drivers Guild was formed.

New York Uber Drivers Protest Rate Cuts Spencer Platt / Getty

As part of a five-year labor agreement with Uber, the New York arm of the International Association of Machinists has been working to help independent drivers get their voices and concerns heard by Uber management. Under the agreement, the group — called the Independent Drivers Guild — is guaranteed a once-a-month meeting with Uber management and a right to appeal driver deactivations.

While it may look like a union and sound like a union, it stops just short of that, because the group is expressly prohibited from collectively bargaining for changes in fares. But that doesn’t mean they can’t fight for things like in-app tipping, which drivers, who were surveyed by the IDG, voted as the concern-du-jour that they wanted addressed at the group’s first meeting with Uber management.

The lack of a tipping option in the Uber app has long been a pain point for drivers, who feel they’re losing out on additional earnings. Calls for in-app tipping are rampant during driver protests. But Uber’s stance has always been that tipping adds a layer of inconvenience for riders, one that the company is not willing to risk.

The company went so far as to discourage drivers from soliciting tips, and previously told drivers and riders that tips were included in the fare. But as part of a settlement of a lawsuit that a group of drivers brought against the company, alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors and should be treated as employees, Uber had to stop saying the tip was included in the fare. Because it really wasn’t.

Adding to drivers’ frustrations was the fact that Lyft and a few other ride-hail apps allowed riders to tip their drivers in the app. And yet, even faced with this reality, Uber hasn’t budged.

That was before there was much organization among Uber drivers — who typically found each other through online forums and Facebook groups — and before the IDG. So, on July 19, after speaking with drivers, the IDG met with Uber’s management for the first time. They made their case for in-app tipping.

And yet again, Uber didn’t budge.

“When we brought the in-app tipping option to Uber, Uber management did not seem to have any kind of logical reason for resisting the tipping option,” Jim Conigliaro Jr., founder of the Independent Drivers Guild, told Recode. “They basically just restated that this is how the app has always been, and that it doesn't fit with their ease of use.”

Now the IDG has set up an online petition urging people — Uber drivers, et al — to ask Uber to “help drivers make a livable wage and make the user experience less confusing for passengers.” So far, the petition has been signed by 3,375 people. That’s 3,025 short of the group’s goal of 6,400 signatures.

It’s unclear what happens after they meet that goal. Uber is under no obligation to negotiate with the group, nor does the company necessarily need to meet their demands. The agreement doesn’t require it.

In the end, it may show that it’s not simply a minority of drivers who are in support of adding these features. But petitions fighting for in-app tipping are plenty. One such petition amassed about 31,000 signatures. And yet Uber still hasn’t change its mind.

But the IDG — which is also launching an awareness campaign that includes stickers and bar napkins that read, “It's easy to tip your bartender, why does Uber make it so hard to #tipyourdriver” — remains optimistic.

“We ... believe that this tip option makes it even easier for riders to tip their drivers,” Conigliaro said. “If drivers and passengers come together, we can force Uber to make tipping easy with an in-app option.”

Read this next: Uber just agreed to let a labor union represent its drivers in New York

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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