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Peduto acknowledges he can't make Uber offer benefits, but he can try

Aaron Aupperlee
| Wednesday, April 12, 2017, 6:06 p.m.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto (Tribune-Review file photo)
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto (Tribune-Review file photo)

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he won't take action against Uber if it declines to sign a memorandum of understanding he is drafting between the city and the Silicon Valley company.

The mayor can't impose regulations, force Uber's fleet of self-driving cars from Pittsburgh's roads or levy fines if the company refuses to agree to improve working conditions for its drivers, offer more services for the elderly and strive for better fuel efficiency.

But that's not the point, Peduto said Wednesday as he prepared to welcome more than 200 people from companies and colleges across the country to Pittsburgh for the first major meeting of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute.

Peduto said Pittsburgh has a responsibility to shape the social responsibilities of companies scrambling to advance autonomous technology.

“We have a significant role because we not only built America, we built the middle class, and we don't want to go back on what people had sacrificed for decades in order to just see a new industry start. We want to build off of that,” Peduto told reporters at the National Robotics Engineering Center in Lawrenceville, where the institute held its meeting.

“With a company like Uber, we are appreciative that they are investing a billion dollars and hiring a thousand people, but at the same time we want to make sure that the industry that they are creating benefits all the workers.”

Peduto said he wants anyone who drives 40 hours a week for Uber to get a W-2 tax form (instead of a 1099 form for self-employed workers) and have access to benefits. He said the company should make benefits available to drivers who work less than 40 hours as well.

Uber has said it is proud of its operations in Pittsburgh and that the company hopes to continue to have a positive presence in the city. The company has not commented on whether it would sign an agreement as Peduto has proposed.

Craig Ewer, a spokesman for Uber, said Wednesday that 90 percent of all Uber drivers claim they drive for the company because they love being their own boss, a statistic the company has used in lawsuits involving whether drivers are employees or contractors.

“As employees, drivers would have set shifts, earn a fixed hourly wage and lose the ability to drive with other ridesharing apps — as well as the personal flexibility they most value,” Ewer wrote in an email to the Tribune-Review. Uber also helps drivers find health insurance, tax help and retirement savings options, according to its website . The company offers a fuel card program and discounts at some auto shops and on some phone plans.

Uber donated $10,000 in free rides to the Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh in January and $20,000 in free rides during the city's boil-water order.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the mayor's requests for Uber. Uber began testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh in May amid praise from Peduto and other public officials.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation regulates roads in the state, including Pittsburgh's streets, leaving the mayor powerless to prohibit Uber from using the city's public streets. Legislators in Harrisburg are developing regulations for companies testing self-driving cars. Peduto said those companies should be regulated similarly to public utility companies.

RELATED: Pennsylvania puzzles over how to regulate driverless car testing

Peduto said the city is not only looking at Uber but at all companies working on autonomous transportation. There have been ongoing talks between the city and Ford, which in February invested $1 billion in Argo AI , a Pittsburgh self-driving car startup. The mayor has held up Ford as an example for Uber to follow.

“It's not a contract,” Peduto said of the memo. “It is where the city of Pittsburgh wants to see this industry move, the direction it wants to see this industry move and its willingness to be open and allow our streets to be used. It's an understanding that it's a two-way deal.”

The mayor is still drafting the memo. Conversations with Uber have been limited, Peduto said.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach Aupperlee at aaupperlee@tribweb.com or 412-336-8448.

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