The City Council made history on Dec. 14, voting unanimously to allow the first-ever collective bargaining system for app-based drivers. The “Voice for Drivers” ordinance allows for-hire drivers in Seattle to elect driver representative organizations (dros) as their advocates. Those dros can negotiate with Uber and Lyft directly on pay and working conditions.
Drivers say that they have little or no control over their work, with Uber and Lyft frequently dropping pay rates with no notice or deactivating drivers for arbitrary reasons. Councilmember Mike O’Brien, the ordinance’s chief backer, said on his blog that the bill was important because many drivers are immigrants, do not speak English as a first language and struggle to find work.
“Driving taxis, flat-rate, and TNC-endorsed vehicles is often the best path to regular work for them,” O’Brien wrote. “Unfortunately, they are often taken advantage of by the companies that hire them or contract with them.”
Indeed, many drivers reported making less than minimum wage after calculating for taxes and expenses, whereas Uber advertises prominently on Facebook that drivers can make up to $25 per hour. Taxicab companies, which have historically been resentful of Uber and Lyft, were on board with the ordinance, saying that setting rates at reasonable levels will ensure fair competition and a level playing field for all.
The bill does face some legal hurdles, as the National Labor Relations Board specifically prohibits “independent contractors” from unionizing, and for-hire drivers are often classified as such. Lawsuits in other states have challenged that status, saying that because rideshare services have so much control over when and how their drivers work, they are technically employees. Here, we didn’t take that approach, instead just saying that Seattle will allow drivers to unionize regardless of employment status.
The ordinance cites Seattle Municipal Code for its legal authority. The municipal code grants the city the “power to license for-hire vehicles, taxicabs, for-hire drivers taxicab associations, and transportation network companies, and issue TNC vehicle endorsements, for regulations and revenue.”
The ordinance could face challenges from ride-sharing companies. Lyft issued a statement after the vote saying that the ordinance conflicts with federal law and would cost riders more money. Mayor Ed Murray said he was concerned that the costs of implementing and defending the bill could be too high. He said he wouldn’t sign the bill but wouldn’t veto it and would begin actively looking into ways to implement it.