The rideshare service Uber and its main competitor Lyft have both been embroiled in controversy (and lawsuits) over their treatment of drivers, with critics alleging that these companies are violating the drivers’ rights as employees. Uber and Lyft, of course, counter that the drivers are not employees at all but rather independent contractors, and reclassifying them as employees would be fatally disruptive to their business models. Some other players in this market, however, have seen opportunity in these controversies; Juno and TappCar, Jordan Pearson writes at Motherboard, are using what they say are much more employee-friendly policies as a selling point—marketing themselves, in Pearson’s phrasing, as “the fair trade coffee to Uber’s Costco brand beans.” In other words, these are companies using their employer brand to bolster their consumer-facing brand. Pearson wonders, however, whether these more “ethical” alternatives are economically viable:
TappCar spokesperson Pascal Ryffel, perhaps unsurprisingly, doesn’t see things this way. His company is in the final stages of arriving at a collective bargaining agreement with a union represented by the Teamsters, he told me. “Anyone who doesn’t like a union often says that it becomes unprofitable for a private company to be unionized,” Ryffel said. “It’s the same argument that’s used by companies like Walmart. I think it’s a spurious argument.”
To TappCar, the appeal of a unionized workforce is two-fold. First, unionization and a more driver-focused environment will attract better drivers. Second, better drivers will result in a better customer experience, which will translate into more business.
The reasoning is the same for Juno in bustling New York City, far away from the cowboy oil town vibe of Calgary and Edmonton. “If you’re getting a better driver, then as a rider you’re getting a better experience,” founder Talmon Marco said. “We’ve pretty much attracted every Uber VIP to the Juno platform.”
Uber “VIPs” are Uber drivers with a rating of 4.7 or higher (Uber drivers with a rating below 4.6 are at risk of deactivation)—a requirement for joining Juno. Marco says that more than 7,500 drivers have signed up to drive for Juno, which is still in the beta phase. But Juno and TappCar will ultimately have to make a better sell to drivers if they want to pull them away from the behemoth.