Neither Shaken nor Stirred

Las Vegas may be the last true union town in America. Not a great union town, though perhaps one of the last. The locals are too polite. Forget about breaking any heads or a persuasive fire bomb smashing through a window. Hell, it would be tough here to find any natives who’d roll a car.

Chicago, Detroit or Cleveland Las Vegas isn’t.

Nevertheless given the sheer number of hotel workers, as well as municipal employees, and hard hats filling the building trades here, as well as a decent number of taxi drivers, who belong to labor groups where else than Las Vegas could union membership be higher in the United States?

Some may read the attribute as sacrilege or worse disparagement. Not enough will recognize the honor meant to confer.

While seemingly antiquated today, most of what benefits American workers still currently enjoy directly derive from past movements which led to collective bargaining. Left to individual workers, tolerable conditions, fair pay, humane hours, would remain fantasies for the majority of employees.

Even those earning hourly who mistakenly believe unionization elsewhere hasn’t had any effect on their jobs have reaped rewards. Fear alone that the rank and file could be susceptible to an organizer’s blandishments has often been sufficient to prompt workplace improvements. Certainly nowhere near the parity should the shop brought within labor’s loop, but better than had the potential “menace” never existed.

Since American society has become so comfortable, it’s also become forgetful. Nor does it help any that those who experienced working life “before” have nearly died out; that management often regards stock evaluations more essential than personnel and product. Thanks to de-emphasizing well-made products or well-provided services for quick illusory earnings, the old compact, responsible employees and accountable employers joined together towards goals which profited both, not at the exclusion of one or the other, a stance which made American industry globally preeminent, is consigned to a history few today read.

In Las Vegas, it amuses to hear labor degraded. That somehow unions have become spoiled or too powerful. Naturally those often offering these opinions loudest were able to fatten themselves at troughs only filled to brimming after some group pressured bosses who’d otherwise would’ve been quite content to continue screwing employees.

Of course we’ve now progressed so far it’s generally forgotten that before the corporate wave erected the monumental resorts shouldering along the Strip, earlier gaming palaces owed births to union pension funds. Were it not for blue and pink collar deductions invested towards construction costs, Las Vegas never might’ve become as alluring as it has.

Oh, there’d be gambling here. Though on the present scale? No. Left to their cautious natures where risk is to be avoided unless a preponderance of assuredness transforms the offer into a sure thing, corporate America never would’ve taken chances on establishing a gaming mecca in the Mojave. Such challenges needed to be taken by people accustomed to seeing opportunity in long odds.

Yes. Plenty of those pension funds were mobbed-up. Many an Outfit skimmed the tills like hell. Yet, unlike us who’ve added unnecessary complexity to our age and demonstrate far less common sense than our simpler forbearers, they seldom questioned who baked the cake and how. Instead they rightly asked about the finished good’s taste … and the size of their slices.

Working people came to the forefront recently here in Las Vegas. A ridesharing application trying to skirt livery service labeling by proclaiming itself merely a “go-between for carpooling,” convulsed the local taxi industry.

As elsewhere throughout the country and world, the ridesharing application promised pie in the sky.
On one hand, ambitious individuals could lift themselves into higher economic realms as “independent contractors.” Meaning an individual certainly catches all the risks and attendant burdens while perhaps seeing rewards.

On the other, visitors already accustomed to the ridesharing application’s “ease and convenience” factors elsewhere could enjoy them in Las Vegas, too. As a further sweetener, those areas beyond the lucrative Strip, Downtown and airport, addresses too many local cab drivers neglect, could receive improved service.

The thing about pie in the sky is … it’s for suckers. There is no pie in the sky.

The big lure, the one which derails rational thinking, is the interloper’s price. Ultimate price, not simple costs. No meters because the fare is negotiated even before the vehicle arrives. That includes tip. Or lack thereof.

Also in our personalized, over-sharing era passengers and drivers get to assess one another on scales of competence and conviviality, respectively. Rumors also state the ridesharing application’s conveyances further goose favorable responses by offering freebies such as bottled water.

What? No massages?

That’s just too much for getting from Point A to Point B, no? Preferably comfortably, safely, and quickly.

The operational sticking point with the interloper is by declaring itself a “go-between,” a mere “facilitator,” and absolving itself of responsibility as a livery service, few in charge know little about the vehicles driven and personnel driving them. Las Vegas taxi companies assume financial and safety burdens before any car rolls.

No Las Vegas taxi hits the streets without being fully insured and regularly inspected. Drivers any be bastards or bitches afterwards, but before being approved each and all have been investigated. So much so passengers disdaining their drivers might find the process he or she endured intrusive on the way to demeaning. (Shouldn’t fares know from the jump that his or her driver isn’t on the lam from a prison work gang?)

Preventative maintenance keeps vehicles in good working order. Sufficient insurance covers potential damages and injuries.

None of the above can be stated with certainty about cars bearing the ridesharing application’s standard or the people wending those four wheels through Las Vegas boulevards.

The interloper’s main selling point to potential drivers is the wealth and riches awaiting them as their own bosses. Isn’t that an American dream? Laboring twice as hard in the hopes of calling one’s own shots but in reality enriching somebody else?

Oh, I don’t believe that part’s in the ridesharing application’s prospectus.

Initially, when the interloper first bursts onto a scene, money drivers reap is fantastic. It’s a new gimmick – and who doesn’t know how easy the American public falls for new gimmicks? That, and at the very start there are few ridesharing application drivers. Those first weeks there’s so much gravy they probably run out of bread to sop it up.

So naturally cash rolls in.

Besides, the interloper practices congestion pricing. The dynamic charges more for those periods when traffic ought to be heavy and rides in demand. For example: low on weeknights and higher on weekend nights. Doubtlessly the idea has occurred to the legitimate livery services. However, the commission regulating them as well as the vast public would howl bloody murder. And rightly so.

Tiered pricing aside, as more and more drivers horn in on the ridesharing application action, the rate of recompense lowers. The same rides begin yielding less and less. Mind, the amount gleaned by the “go-between” remains constant. However, the people doing the actual toiling are finding themselves shortchanged. Which could be discouraging because the interloper insists its drivers pilot recently manufactured cars.

Therefore, unless the driver was fortuitous enough to already possess a late-model car, he or she must shell out for newer wheels. Sliced anyway, that’s a significant investment. And while initial maintenance shouldn’t be burdensome, upgrading from passenger car to commercial insurance will take a bigger bite.

Yes. Commercial insurance. By hiring out the auto it becomes a commercial enterprise. And that incurs increased liability. Just claiming “carpooling” won’t dodge the individual’s required additional responsibilities.

Won’t the ridesharing application’s upper echelon profit exclusively from these circumstances? Doubtlessly.

Mindless passengers, predominantly the overserved and over-entitled, should continue to enjoy the heedless freelancers’ curb-to-curb service. That is until the ridesharing application’s frayed net either permits a Charles Manson wannabe to prey on oblivious club-hopping partying bozettes (and the chumps trying to get over on them) or long-deferred (better known as neglected maintenance) send 3,000 pounds of careering metal into the first solid thing stopping it.

Las Vegas cab drivers, too, will suffer. Not the companies so much because like the ridesharing application’s management their cushy spots will similarly be insulated. The chiefs will just reduce their fleets in acknowledgement of the saturation. Naturally fewer cars require fewer drivers.

In survival of the fittest terms perhaps not such a bad outcome. Rightly or wrongly, Vegas taxi drivers are notorious for long-hauling and declining short trips or travel straying too far beyond the Strip or Downtown.

Maybe an upside to the ridesharing application’s arrival is that it chases crabby cabbies into retirement, those who’ve stayed too long, become too fat and feeble, drive too slow, cheated too often behind the wheel.

Perhaps the interloper will persuade all the monkey-butt East Africans, shady Eastern Europeans, and swarthy Middle Easterners who resort to situational English with justifiably complaining passengers to not only improve their facility with our language but make its comprehension and usage constant. That alone should detach them from the Strip’s umbilical cord and into the neighborhoods where a deserving populace awaits (and awaits and awaits and awaits) for rides to arrive.

Nonetheless the driver apathy which met the interloper’s challenge surprised and disappointed. The companies understood the threat and reacted with all their might. That said they have less to lose than drivers themselves. If necessary, the companies will reach accommodation with the ridesharing application. If it’s at drivers’ expense, so be it.

Too few of the professional drivers seemed to gather that the ridesharing application imperils their livelihoods and standards of living. At its worst the interloper will not so much erase their positions, but force them to work longer for the same or less amounts of money.

The app is such a simple thing. A dubious advance.

Talk about a prime example of technology causing regression.