New Orleans I’m not an Uber-fan. Cabdrivers have a rough road to travel and city regulations protect their safety and the passengers, so what Uber calls “disruption,” looks a lot like another corporate scam on workers and their communities. On the other hand, I’m no fool. And, when it looked impossible to catch a cab from Gatineau, Quebec to the Ottawa airport, I asked the Ottawa ACORN head organizer, Jill O’Reilly, and sure enough she could navigate the Uber-app, and minutes later I was sailing to the airport at half the price with no hassle with a driver from Delhi, talking about organizing there and Uber here.
On the other hand, neither am I stupid. A huge amount of the cost of a union or any organization, usually about two-thirds, goes to keep organizers on staff, on the phone, and on the road. There are bills in the Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana legislatures to repeal all payroll deductions. Wisconsin and other states have instituted right-to-work laws in what used to be solid union country. I recently finished reading an excellent book by political scientist, Mancur Olson, called The Logic of Collective Action. Published in 1965, it’s a little dated, but he makes some important points, and one of the scariest is that he doesn’t believe that large scale labor unions can survive without compulsory dues collection systems. So, if I’m still trying to figure out biodiesel, contemplating large scale dumpster diving, recycling schemes, and opening up a second Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, why wouldn’t I look real seriously at an Uber-style app used by a company called Roadie that has begun operations in the Southern states and recently announced a partnership with the 1750-store Waffle House chain which operates in half the country?
According to the Wall Street Journal, where I originally stumbled on the story, along with a bunch of other techie blogs and “oh, gee” stories in mainstream sources, here is the way Roadie wants to work. They want to recruit itinerants, though they claim they are looking for students, which makes sense for their image I’m sure. A bit like the old drive-away car deals, which I knew well back-in-the-day, you would hit the app and say you are going from say Atlanta to Jacksonville or maybe New Orleans to Shreveport and passing points on the way. If they have a business that is trying to deliver a package and not pay UPS, FedEx or others the premium, they undercut the price. The driver gets 80% of the money, minus one dollar for insurance or something, the company, like Uber, gets the rest, and everyone is happy, supposedly.
I can remember in the late 1970’s financing a trip to all of the ACORN western offices one summer with a driveway Mercedes that someone in New Orleans needed to return to their parents in the hills of Oakland. They paid for the gas of course, and I hit all the offices in Texas, Arkansas, South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona before pulling into a Bay Area driveway.
Here are some sample prices the Journal pulled from Roadie:
Some deliveries are door-to-door, but part of the buzz on this deal is the fact that Roadie has partnered with the ubiquitous Southern roadside feature, Waffle House, as a pickup and drop off point. Heck, the House is even giving drivers a free waffle and a drink when they finish the job, which sounds like a heckuva deal.
So, hey, if organizers need to be on the road, why not throw something in the trunk with them and cover the cost of the trip? We’re going to have to be creative to keep the wheels of progress – and people – moving!