Seattle City Council Approves App-Based Drivers Unions That Can’t Actually Do Anything

Should livery drivers, especially drivers who work for app-based transportation services like Lyft and Uber, have the right to organize in citywide unions? Seattle’s city council voted unanimously yesterday to allow such a union, even though the city’s mayor doesn’t intend to sign the ordinance, which may also be illegal on the federal level. Specifically, a group of independent contractors bargaining collectively is against price-fixing laws.

The ordinance being illegal wasn’t Mayor Ed Murray’s only issue with the bill: he was concerned that the union, affiliated with the Teamsters, would require a substantial amount of city resources to put in place a system that would be entirely new. The city would certify organizations of drivers that would bargain for them with ride-hailing services. This is all new territory for governments: no city has ever had a union for app-based drivers.

In a statement on the bill after it was passed, Murray explained:

I said consistently during this debate that I support the right of workers to organize to create a fair and just workplace. I remain concerned that this ordinance, as passed by the Council, includes several flaws, especially related to the relatively unknown costs of administering the collective bargaining process and the burden of significant rulemaking the Council has placed on City staff.

There is already a group in place: Seattle-based App-Based Drivers Association is affiliated with local Teamsters, and the union helped the drivers for ride-hailing services lobby city government to turn the group into a full-fledged union.

As one might expect, the apps that employ these drivers aren’t keen to collectively bargain with every driver in Seattle. A representative for Lyft told the New York Times that a union would endanger drivers’ privacy and make prices for passengers go up.

This follows another legal headache to the south, as a class action suit against Uber seeking reiumbursement of expenses makes its way through federal courts. If the mayor signs a future version of the bill, the federal legal issues would need to be sorted out first.

Seattle Will Allow Uber and Lyft Drivers to Form Unions [New York Times]
Seattle’s Uber Unionization Measure a New Economy Test Case [Associated Press]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.