Those someones—43 Divvy workers; out of 56 employees—stepped out of the shadows last week, when they filed signed union cards with the National Labor Relations Board, asking to join the Transport Workers Union Local 100/AFL-CIO.
“A lot of us have been here since launch day, and over time noticed systematic problems going on with Divvy,” said Nicole Cipri, one of the Divvy employees leading the union effort. “A lot of it is mismanagement.”
New York’s Citi bike program unionized in September and were recognized by Citi the day before workers were to hold elections.
“We’re building a national bike share union,” said Nick Bedell, of the 39,000-member Transport Workers, most of whom are New York City public transit workers.
The hard Chicago winter was a factor in employees’ decision to try to unionize.
“When winter hit, a lot of us ended up working full time hours, “ said Caleb Usry, a part-time Divvy re-balancer. “All we did was shovel all day, working full time without full time benefits. We were misled and told if we hung in there, those of us who were committed would go full time, have benefits. I was told that a dozen times. It never happened.”
Workers in Boston and Washington D.C. are also unionizing; Boston votes on Dec. 4.
Cipri said frustration with how Divvy management has been treating employees led to the organizing effort.
"They have been dangling a lot of raises and promotions in front of us, then never following through," she said. "There are issues with the disciplinary system. Basically you can be fired at will without any chance of trying to fight or even having arbitration. Scheduling is a huge issue. We don't often know what our schedule will be."
I have been in a union for 27 years and believe that while they have flaws — going to bat for goldbricks, those insane McCormick Place rules of years gone by, corruption at the top — in general they help balance a system that otherwise skews too far in favor of owners. That so much of the public has been turned against unions is a tribute to the effectiveness of corporate spin.
"Unionizing gives workers a formal mechanism to have a voice of work," Bedell said. "Instead of individuals complaining about situations, it creates a collective voice."
Cipri said she was hired as a field checker for $12 an hour when Divvy began, was promised a raise, then told that nobody was "getting those kinds of raises because New York organized."
"How does that even work?" she marveled. Eventually, she got a 30-cent-an-hour bump in August, then recently was promoted to mechanic and went to $13 an hour.
Divvy management declined to comment.
Divvy is useful, fun, inexpensive transportation, but it is also a luxury, a lark for those who want to save cab fare and feel the wind in their hair. I would suggest that those who use Divvyare exactly the type of customers who would be most turned off if Divvy management plays hardball with the grease-smeared kids who make the system work.
"I actually really like working here," Cipri said. "There are a lot of good people here, but a lot of us are getting screwed over. . . .We've been talking to management about this stuff for ages."
I told Cipri it takes a certain amount of courage to stick her neck out and try to unionize. Most people wouldn't risk it.
"I'm just a mechanic," she said. "It's been really scary because I'm a good worker. I feel like I do a really solid job. I don't know if they're going to try to fire me. If they do, there's not a whole lot I can do."
She said she and Usry, because of their efforts, have "painted big old targets on both of our foreheads." And yet . . .
"On the other hand. I'm single," she said. "I don't have any kids. I don't have to pay for a house. I figured, I'm pretty much a free agent. What I really want is an equal voice for the workers in how things are operated."
With management, "most of them don't understand the day-to-day running of these operations. A lot of them don't have the background, so they brush things off. If you're re-balancing [Divvy stations] down in the Loop, with six stations emptying out and three stations filled, with only two people working the Loop; management is OK with that, but for us it's a nightmare. We really just want to be able to do our jobs better."