Seattle Law Allowing Driver Unionization Survives Uber Legal Attack

By | March 20, 2017

Seattle’s first-in-the-nation law allowing Uber Technologies Inc. drivers to unionize survived a legal challenge by the ride-hailing company.

Washington state Judge Beth Andrus rejected Uber’s arguments that the local collective bargaining process for drivers who work for ride-hailing companies and taxi services as independent contractors was flawed.

“This is a victory for Seattle and the Teamsters,” said Charlotte Garden, an associate law professor at Seattle University. “It means the process of attempting to organize drivers can continue under the same ground rules regarding which drivers will vote on unionization.”

The question of whether Uber and Lyft Inc. drivers can unionize is part of a larger fight over how sharing economy companies treat their workforce. Uber’s business model is under attack worldwide by the taxi industry, local governments and drivers.

Uber contended Seattle’s process was adopted without public input and is especially unfair to new and part-time drivers.

‘A Voice’

“The city’s collective bargaining ordinance rules deny thousands of Seattle drivers a voice and a vote on their future,” Brooke Steger, Uber’s general manager for the Pacific Northwest, said in an e-mailed statement. “We were forced to pursue a novel legal approach because the city provided no other way to challenge this deeply flawed process.”

An Uber spokesman said the company is considering whether to appeal.

The Seattle law faces a graver threat from a lawsuit in federal court brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and drivers represented by the Freedom Foundation and National Right to Work Foundation, Garden said.

“The bigger question about the ordinance’s legality is still looming,” she said.

In the case Uber lost on March 17, the company faced a high hurdle convincing the state court judge that Seattle’s rulemaking process was improper, Garden said.

Uber’s “attempt to slow the ordinance down was denied,” said Seattle assistant city attorney Michael Ryan. “So we will continue apace with implementing the ordinance.”

Uber challenged the first set of the ordinance’s rules, Ryan said. Completing its rollout is likely months away and without a final end date, he said.

In 2015, Seattle adopted a law requiring taxicab and for-hire car companies to negotiate with a “driver representative” over the terms and conditions of work, if a sufficient number of drivers choose to be represented.

The city failed to give the public “a meaningful opportunity to comment” and didn’t allow all drivers to vote on whether they will be represented by a labor organization, Uber said in a complaint filed in January in King County Superior Court.

The city defended its rulemaking process as fair, saying there were plenty of opportunities for public input. Seattle urged the court to leave the rules in place absent a showing by Uber that the city “willfully and unreasonably” disregarded facts important to the ordinance.

The case is Rasier v. City of Seattle, 17-2-00964-4 SEA, Washington Superior Court, King County (Seattle).


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