San Francisco e-scooter company Spin may be the first in the nation to form a union.
The workers at Spin, one of four companies awarded a permit to rent out e-scooters by San Francisco earlier this year,voted on Dec. 5 to unionize. Their authorization cards were ratified Wednesday.
The vote is especially noteworthy in an industry known to heavily lean on independent contractors without worker protections to scoop up e-scooters in cities across the United States, charge them, and redistribute them throughout city streets.
Spin, an e-scooter company owned by Ford Motor Company, welcomed the unionization with open arms. But other e-scooter companies have reacted to unionization with less enthusiasm.
That’s where Assembly Bill 5, authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), comes in, the Teamsters union said. The bill has opened the door for unionization, they claimed.
That bill enshrined worker classification rules mainly aimed at ensuring ride-hail drivers and other gig workers are treated as W-2 employees and not independent contractors. But AB5’s effects are rippling out into many other industries, including micromobility and e-scooters, said Doug Bloch, political director of the Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents more than 100,000 Teamsters across California.
The spread of unionization to e-scooters “shows AB5 is working,” Bloch said.
Before AB5, he added, e-scooter companies heavily leaned on independent contractors for the hard labor of the e-scooter industry.
“Bird people were called ‘Bird Hunters,’ Lime people were called ‘Juicers;’ they were basically bounty hunters,” he said. “‘Wild West’ is an understatement.”
Now that e-scooter companies are hiring W-2 employees, those workers are ripe for unionizing, Bloch said. The Teamsters and Spin believe its workers are the first e-scooter company workers in the United States to unionize.
Wednesday afternoon at San Francisco City Hall, Teamsters Local 665 and Spin leaders stood in the office of Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who represents The City’s southern neighborhoods on the Board of Supervisors.
Safai served as the neutral third-party to review the workers’ authorization cards to unionize. He counted them one by one.
“This is another person who lives in my district,” Safai noted, as he read an authorization card.
Ultimately, a majority of the 40 workers authorized the unionization. Safai called the moment “historic” for San Francisco and the micromobility industry.
But the fight isn’t over, said Tony Delorio, president of the Teamsters Local 665.
“Our first priority is to help the poor workers who were laid off by Bird,” Delorio said, referring to Bird’s layoff of roughly a dozen employees from Scoot, which is permitted to operate e-scooters in San Francisco.
Nima Rahimi, senior policy counsel at Spin, said the company would try to hire as many former Scoot employees as they could accommodate.
Four e-scooter companies out of roughly a dozen competing companies were offered permits to operate in San Francisco in September: Jump, Lime, Scoot and Spin. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency permits those companies to operate roughly 500 e-scooters on city streets each, except for Scoot, which was allowed more.
However, in the coming weeks the agency is expected to consider expanding the number of e-scooters companies are allowed to operate in San Francisco.
Rahimi hopes that SFMTA will keep in mind Spin’s labor practices when decided whether or not to expand the number of e-scooters on the street.
Operating 500 e-scooters requires 40 employees to manage, he said, whereas operating 1,500 e-scooters would spur the company to hire up to 120 employees.
“That’s just kind of the math there,” Rahimi said.
Meanwhile, Bloch, from the Teamsters union, said the Teamsters are eyeing Jump, Lime and Scoot next for unionization.
And after that — the rest of California.