Juno is one of several ride-sharing services that emerged last year as more “driver-friendly” alternatives to Uber and Lyft. The New York City-exclusive startup courted drivers with an equity program that offered them restricted stock units if they spent 30 hours a week or more using the platform, and in turn marketed itself to customers as an ethical diamond in the rough of the gig economy. In Juno’s model, values-conscious riders would pay a bit more to know that their driver was being paid fairly, better rewards would attract better drivers, and the equity they accrued would afford them some financial stability. It was a prime example of HR as PR, especially for a competitor to Uber, which has faced some controversy over how it treats its drivers.
Last week, however, Juno announced that it was being acquired by Gett, a larger and more established ride-hailing company, for $200 million. Drivers, however, won’t be seeing much of that money, Recode’s Johana Bhuiyan reported, as Juno did away with the scheme as part of the acquisition deal:
Drivers who’ve already earned shares would be cashed out. Several of the drivers who forwarded their emails to Recode are receiving around $100 for their shares, regardless of how many shares they had accumulated. One had roughly 1,600 shares, another more than 3,500 and another had more than 6,000.
Screencap of Juno's Website (Talent Daily)
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.