News & Politics

Seattle Passes Law for Lyft, Uber Drivers to Unionize

On Monday, Seattle became the first city to pass a law allowing Lyft and Uber drives the right to unionize.  The Seattle City Council unanimously approved the right of drivers who work for transportation network companies to negotiate pay and working conditions.

Both Uber and Lyft opposed the measure. They argue that federal law precludes legislation. “The law marks a new approach to addressing the heated debate over whether Uber and Lyft drivers ought to have some or all the legal rights of employees, which would substantially increase companies’ costs,” writes Reuters.

“Unfortunately, the ordinance passed today threatens the privacy of drivers, imposes substantial costs on passengers and the city, and conflicts with longstanding federal law,” said Chelsea Wilson, Lyft public policy communications manager.

Uber said their drivers work fewer than 10 hours a week and that there is a high turnover rate so it doesn’t make sense to designate them as “employees.”

Uber is also expected to sue.

Seattle Councilman Mike O’Brien, the councilman who proposed the measure, predicted Uber would sue and said the council is prepared to defend the measure.

“We now have a $60 billion organization making a lot of money while some drivers are making less than $3 per hour,” he said.

The law does not designate the drivers as employees as opposed to contractors, it merely extends the rights of employees to the drivers.

“It’s a reaction to the employment issue without solving that bigger problem,” said Richard Reibstein, a labor lawyer who runs the independent contractor practice at Pepper Hamilton. “Until such time as their status is resolved in each state, those who are unhappy will seek political action to advance their causes.”

Supporters of the law filled the Council chambers on Monday. Said one, “It’s pretty much making minimum wage” after deducting costs, said Sean Janaba, 34, of Seattle, who has been driving for Uber for three years. “Things are getting worse.”

Some states have ruled that drivers are independent contractors but in some cases in California, drivers were determined to be employees and were given unemployment benefits.

Opponents to the Seattle law say that their drivers are independent contractors and that federal law prohibits collective bargaining. Other workers like farm workers and home healthcare workers have been allowed to unionize under state law.