(TNS) — Workers for San Francisco, California scooter-rental company Spin voted to join a local union Wednesday, the first labor organizing at a scooter company in the city and likely the first in the nation.
“We are extremely excited to set a precedent in the industry,” said District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who oversaw the vote count in his City Hall office. “It’s historic.”
Spin, owned by Ford, was one of the four companies to win a San Francisco permit to rent electric scooters on sidewalks in the city’s second pilot that started in October. The roughly 40 workers who will unionize are maintenance specialists, shift leads, operations specialists, neighborhood ambassadors, deployers and collectors.
They’ll join Teamsters Local Union 665, which represents more than 70,000 workers in the Bay Area. Doug Bloch, the Teamsters’ local political director, did not reveal the vote count, but confirmed it was a majority.
“Spin has long differentiated itself with our workforce policies, choosing (an employee) model and local hiring over independent contractors and staffing agencies. We believe investing in everyone from our headquarters to our warehouses leads to a safer, more reliable service,” Nima Rahimi, senior policy counsel at Spin, said in a statement. The company said it looks forward to negotiating a collective bargaining agreement in San Francisco immediately.
When scooter startups first rolled out their vehicles, they followed a familiar gig-economy business model, informally hiring workers as independent contractors through apps and paying them to pick up and recharge scooters. That meant those workers lacked benefits and the right to unionize.
The debate about whether such workers were misclassified as contractors has risen over the past year, leading to the passage of AB5, a state law that strictly limits when employers can deem a worker an independent contractor. At the same time, as the city considered expanding its scooter program, the Board of Supervisors urged the Municipal Transportation Agency to require scooter companies to hire workers as regular employees and pledge not to oppose unions.
Safaí said officials worked with the Teamsters to see “how we could support their efforts to unionize that workforce and ensure they had stable jobs and dignity and respect in the workplace and that they would have benefits.”
The four companies that received permits this year said their workers would be full-time employees, not independent contractors, and promised they would support labor harmony. (The eight rejected applicants made similar pledges.)
Spin is the first company to sign a labor peace agreement with the union, said Bloch. The company gave the union access to the workers, who collected cards expressing interest in unionizing before Wednesday’s official count. Such an election, known as a card check, is viewed by unions as friendlier than a secret-ballot vote, which companies facing union drives can insist on.
Bloch said the three other permitted companies — Lime, Jump (owned by Uber) and Scoot (owned by Bird) — have not signed labor peace agreements.
Uber declined to say whether it had communicated with the union. The San Francisco company laid out its plans to ensure good working conditions and avoid disruptions in its application and received the second highest labor plan rating from SFMTA, after Spin.
Lime, also of San Francisco, confirmed it hadn’t yet signed an agreement with the Teamsters. The company’s application recognized the rights of employees to organize and join unions and pledged to ensure labor harmony by acting in good faith and meeting with representatives to resolve issues.
Scoot, which was headquartered in San Francisco before its acquisition by Bird of Santa Monica this year, said it could not provide comment. Its application also respected workers’ rights to unionize.
Bloch said Teamsters “will go back to the SFMTA and Board of Supervisors and make it clear that there is only one permitted company that has labor harmony right now.” SFMTA did not respond to a request for comment on the scooter companies’ compliance with the labor harmony provision.
But Safaí said that “once one group signs, it sets a standard across the entire industry.”
Enthusiasm among investors who have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into scooter companies, valuing some like Lime and Bird in the billions of dollars, has created a fast-changing industry that can be unpredictable for workers. Last week, Scoot laid off nearly two dozen workers, a move that came as new parent Bird sought to integrate its operations.
Unionization can provide more protections for employees, Bloch said.
“If these workers choose to join the Teamsters and then the company decides they want to shut their doors and lay people off, they’re going to have to negotiate with the workers around the layoffs, workers will have some protections, they’ll be in the union and we can help them find other union jobs,” Bloch said. “There are protections for workers when they join together in unions that sadly don’t exist for those Scoot workers.”
©2019 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.