Seattle's City Council voted today to allow freelance drivers the right to collectively negotiate such items as pay and working conditions. The New York Times observed that if the right were conferred upon contractors working for the likes of Lyft and Uber, it would be a national first. Currently, the National Labor Relations Act doesn't grant independent contractors collective bargaining rights. The Seattle Times now reports that the council voted 8-0 vote for enactment.
"While the innovative new way to hail rides in Seattle is a boon to many of us who need a ride," reads the bill before the City Council, "the drivers face many challenges, particularly those drivers who depend on this work for a living and yet fail to earn even minimum wage due to reasons beyond their control." Uber, for example, might drop its minimum charge rates without approval from drivers. "There is currently no mechanism for drivers to address these issues with their employer directly.... As a result, conflicts in this publicly regulated transportation market have become policy fights rather than points of negotiation, as they would be in other private sector employment."
Council member Mike O’Brien told the Associated Press that “This feels like the right thing to do,” despite anticipated legal challenges.
Uber chief adviser David Plouffe, the political strategist behind the 2008 Obama campaign, spoke recently of the ordinance in a Seattle speech. “The ordinance is puzzling because I think it’s generally believed to be flatly illegal what they’re trying to do," he said, not mincing words, "and I assume the courts will look at that if it were to be successful.”
Said O'Brien, “We don’t take legal challenges lightly, but we recognize that businesses sue when they disagree with our policies.”
The drivers supporting the bill call themselves the App-Based Drivers Association or the Teamsters TNC. They work closely with Teamsters Local 117.
Uber, a company valued this month at $62.5 billion after a new investment according to the Times, relies on 400,000 drivers nationwide. 10,000 of those are in Seattle. That city, one of the first to pass laws to raise the minimum wage to $15, is perceived as operating on the forefront of workers' rights. Incidentally, it's also been a hotbed of innovation for Uber. There, the company debuted its color-coded light system for passengers, and now the Verge notes they're introduced the "mass transit killer" Uber Hop, an option for multiple passengers traveling the same route.
“If the Seattle ordinance survives challenge, we’ll see it in a lot of cities,” said Samuel Estreicher, a law professor at New York University. So, as goes Seattle? But Uber has made it clear that it likes its drivers neatly divided. The company is asking drivers to sign a new agreement that will make arbitration enforceable, thereby diffusing threat of any future class actions.