Unionize Uber? Legal fight over Seattle drivers draws national attention – Seattle Times


The metropolis has given Teamsters Local 117 permission to start making an attempt to arrange drivers, and corporations should flip over drivers’ contact info to the group by April three. That is, until the courtroom intervenes.

Charles Jenkins first appeared on an Uber-sponsored podcast 4 months in the past. Since then, he’s defined on a number of episodes why Seattle’s law permitting Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers to unionize would harm entrepreneurs like him.

“It sounds to me like you’re adding a middle man in a place where a middle man is not necessary between me as a driver and Uber as my partner,” Jenkins, 51, stated in an episode. “It just doesn’t make any sense because I’m not an employee.”

The podcast series, which is delivered by way of the app drivers use, is only one method Uber is making an attempt to persuade drivers that unionizing can be a mistake. The firm has used TV and newspaper ads, too, in addition to emails and in-individual conferences.

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Meanwhile, Teamsters Local 117 is shifting ahead with its efforts to arrange for-rent drivers, saying a union would give them the prospect to collectively discount on an organization-by-firm foundation over points corresponding to higher pay.

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Both campaigns might show meaningless if federal lawsuits in search of to overturn the regulation prevail.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a few dozen Lyft and Uber drivers have filed separate lawsuits arguing that as unbiased contractors, not staff, drivers wouldn’t have the correct to unionize beneath federal regulation, amongst different claims. A listening to on the chamber’s go well with is about for Thursday.

Advocates, politicians and business leaders nationwide are watching how the Seattle regulation, the primary of its variety, unfolds. The end result might affect whether or not different governments transfer to determine collective-bargaining rights for such staff amid the growing gig economy.

The regulation went into impact early final yr with a ready interval earlier than permitting unionization efforts. Local 117 got permission from the town to start making an attempt to arrange drivers earlier this month. Unless the courtroom intervenes, corporations should flip over their drivers’ contact info to Local 117 by April 3.

Among union supporters is Musse Bhata, of Shoreline, who has been with Uber for greater than three years. He stated many drivers, after car bills, make far lower than the city’s minimum wage and wish the chance for collective bargaining.

“They don’t have the means to live,” stated one other driver, Kidane Beyene.

But drivers like Jenkins assume unionizing would threaten their flexibility to work when and the place they need. Uber and Eastside for Hire, a taxi and for-rent firm in Seattle, shaped a nonprofit, Drive Forward, final yr to share the views of drivers who oppose unionization.

“In the fight over the future of rideshare in Seattle, it is not Uber that threatens the Teamsters, it’s well-informed drivers,” Uber spokesman Nathan Hambley stated in an e-mail.


For Uber drivers, momentum towards collective bargaining started in 2013, shortly after the corporate’s begin in Seattle, as drivers expressed grievances reminiscent of Uber deactivating their apps with out warning, primarily firing them.

Meanwhile, officers have been making an attempt to decide how to regulate Uber and Lyft, which have been rising shortly and taking enterprise from the town’s taxi business.

In 2015, after Seattle became the first major U.S. city to set its minimal wage on a path to $15 an hour, Councilmember Mike O’Brien proposed laws to offer taxi drivers, for-rent drivers and drivers working with app-based mostly dispatch corporations the proper to unionize.

The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance, and the difficulty has been contentious since.

Last yr, Uber began calling Seattle-area drivers to inform them that unionizing does not make sense, as a result of many drive half time, not as a profession.

Later, the corporate made one other collection of calls urging drivers to contact metropolis officers concerning the first spherical of guidelines for the ordinance, based on a phone script for those calls offered to The Seattle Times by Uber. Those guidelines dictate which drivers get a say in unionizing.

The hottest episode within the Uber podcast collection, available via SoundCloud, has greater than 6,200 listens and pertains to these guidelines. Uber’s Seattle common supervisor Brooke Steger hosts the podcasts, nearly all of which handle the unionization problem.

“The consequences of it (the law) could be very, very real,” she says in a single episode. “We’re quite afraid and concerned about what this will do to all of the small businesses on the platform.”

Drive Forward has additionally run advertisements in The Seattle Times that function drivers who say they like the best way the business operates now with out collective bargaining. An identical firm-sponsored message appeared on TV throughout a Seahawks recreation final yr, The Stranger reported.

Local 117 enterprise consultant Dawn Gearhart referred to as the corporate’s messaging methods “an absurd use of resources that could go elsewhere.”

Uber declined to say how a lot was spent on the newspaper and TV ads.

More than 10,000 Uber drivers and hundreds of Lyft drivers function in Seattle, the businesses say. Some drivers work for each corporations.

With in-app messages and emails, Lyft’s communication with drivers over the unionization difficulty is just like Uber’s.

Local 117 has already helped arrange a trade association for taxi drivers that advocates for higher working circumstances, although with out the regulation, corporations are usually not compelled to barter with them.

According to Seattle’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services, 1,025 automobiles are licensed as taxis in Seattle and King County, whereas about 470 are licensed as for-rent automobiles, which means they cost a flat payment per journey. Some are particular to only the town or county, although different automobiles have twin licenses.

Taxi corporations haven’t launched seen campaigns towards the unionization regulation, Gearhart stated.

Progressive cities

Charlotte Garden, a Seattle University professor who focuses on labor regulation, stated the union debate in Seattle is essential as a result of increasingly more individuals work as unbiased contractors and don’t have a standard relationship with an employer.

“For the union to show that this can be a successful model, that might move to other progressive cities,” Garden stated.

Or, a courtroom ruling towards the Seattle regulation might frustrate makes an attempt to move comparable laws elsewhere.

The lawsuits by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and drivers argue the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which provides staff the appropriate to collectively discount however doesn’t prolong that proper to unbiased contractors, pre-empts the Seattle ordinance, amongst different claims. The fits search courtroom orders barring the town from implementing the regulation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce first sued Seattle over the regulation final yr, however a federal decide dismissed the lawsuit as untimely. This month, a King County Superior Court decide rejected a legal challenge by Uber over the regulation’s guidelines and the town’s rule-making course of.

Seattle’s Finance and Administrative Services division, which oversees the law’s implementation, launched a second round of draft rules in March governing the rollout.

For a union to type, Local 117 should submit a majority of certified drivers’ signatures expressing their curiosity to the town by the end of July. Gearhart stated some drivers have already offered these statements.

Councilmember O’Brien stated he’s “committed as ever” to get the regulation absolutely enacted, regardless of the courtroom challenges.

“We’re facing some of the critical moments about what will happen next,” he stated. “We believe we can do it. A lot of folks are waiting to see how that will settle out.”

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