Juno was supposed to be the labor-friendly Uber alternative. Now drivers are pissed.
Ride-hailing service Juno promised a more worker-friendly alternative to the zero-sum labor practices of Uber and Lyft — it offered drivers a piece of the company itself.
But that dream died last month when Juno suddenly jettisoned drivers’ part-ownership agreements following a $200-million sale to rival Gett.
Drivers were left justifiably irate, and now Uber’s fledging quasi-union is taking up their cause.
The Independent Driver Guild (IDG) — the industry’s first labor group to receive employer recognition — filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday calling for an investigation into Juno’s alleged deception over the program.
The case could help the guild establish a reputation as an influential driver advocate despite the limitations of its non-union status and potentially compromising ties to Uber management.
“Uber drivers are desperate — they haven’t had a voice at the table,” says IDG executive director Ryan Price. “So when Juno came around, it was this promise of ownership in the app, this promise of potentially having money to retire on when self-driving cars take over … People really believed in what Juno was saying.”
“Uber drivers are desperate — they haven’t had a voice at the table.”
More specifically, the promise was a “restricted stock agreement” that Juno granted each of its drivers. The deal gave the company’s independent contractors a limited stake in the company’s equity as long as they worked 30 or more hours per week.
Drivers signed the deal with the expectation that those accumulated shares would be valuable should the company ever be sold or go public.
Yet when the program was cancelled in the wake of the Gett sale, the company reportedly awarded at least several drivers a flat $100 each regardless of how much stock they had amassed. At least two told Bloomberg this week that they still had yet to even receive those small payments.
“This is penny stock — I could make more picking up pennies in Manhattan,” one driver said of his payout at the time.
The company also admitted that it was already considering ending the agreements before the sale over a regulatory issue with the Securities and Exchange Commission that could have rendered them illegal.
Among other things, the guild’s complaint calls on the FTC to probe exactly when Juno discovered this legal snag and whether it concealed it from drivers for its own financial gain.
Gett didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The guild’s campaigns rely heavily on these types of regulatory avenues as a means of leverage over ride-hailing companies.
Because the group’s year-old contract with Uber stops short of granting it full union status, it isn’t able to collectively bargain or call a strike.
The concessions were supposedly the only way the group could reach an agreement with Uber, which has fiercely resisted its workers’ unionization efforts. Uber maintains that its workforce’s partial employment status — drivers are classified as independent contractors — bars them from forming a legal union.
“We have to find other government entities to regulate these companies when they do something greedy,” Price said. “We’re figuring out all the options we have.”
The guild says it’s also pushing the case through all other available channels, including the SEC and the New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.
Juno was founded around the same time as the IDG, and the latter has always treated the company’s entreaties to drivers with due skepticism.
Aside from the ownership-sharing promise, little differentiated Juno’s service from its bigger competitors.
The IDG itself isn’t above suspicion either, though. The group is partially funded by Uber, a fact that can raise eyebrows when it goes after the company’s rivals.
However, the group recently began collecting membership dues to distance itself from the company it’s ostensibly supposed to keep in check.
Most of Juno’s drivers also contract with Uber and the overlap provided enough justification for the Uber-specific guild to involve itself in the case.
The group scored one of its first big wins last month when it convinced the TLC to put forth a rule that would require companies to add a tipping option with their apps (Lyft already does so).
Price is hoping the industry’s hot-button political status will entice regulators to prioritize the Juno case.
“Thankfully, this industry is very popular so we hope that there will be interest from regulators,” he said.