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Ed Murray at Startupday 2015
Mayor Ed Murray at GeekWire Startup Day 2015.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declined to sign a new law the City Council unanimously approved on Monday that will give Uber, Lyft, taxi, and other for-hire drivers the right to unionize.

In a statement, the Seattle mayor noted “several flaws” in the legislation, including the “relatively unknown costs of administering the collective bargaining process and the burden of significant rulemaking the Council has placed on City staff.”

Here’s his full statement:

“The tremendous growth of TNCs in Seattle, both in terms of popularity and the number of trips, demonstrates that this new business model is changing how people move around the city. These companies are providing valuable new tools for city residents and innovating at a tremendous pace.

“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. My office has shared my concerns with the Council throughout the debate, including a letter I sent to Council today.

“Since my concerns were not adequately addressed in this legislation, I will not sign this bill. Under the City Charter, the ordinance will become law without my signature. As this ordinance takes effect, my administration will begin its work to determine what it will take to implement the law. I believe it will be necessary to seek additional clarifying legislation from the Council. I look forward to working with councilmembers in 2016 on their ordinance.”

Earlier on Monday, Murray sent a letter to the councilmembers before their meeting that described his concerns in more detail and asked the council to amend the bill. From the letter:

“At a high level, my concerns arise because the Bill defers a number of important determinations in the collective bargaining process to rule-making by the FAS Director. Examples include the process of determining a “qualifying driver” (drivers that qualify to collectively bargain) without providing a mechanism to access previously unshared driver data; and the process by which the FAS Director would have the nuanced responsibility to certify whether any bargained agreements meet goals identified in the legislation. Such rule-making would determine how this process functions in real-time. I have serious concerns that such key questions have not been resolved prior to potential passage of this Bill.

Additionally, the cost of regulation will be significant and should be the responsibility of those being regulated and not a general government expense. The Bill fails to adequately examine the true costs of these regulations, which causes me grave concern about the use of our City resources.”

Murray also noted that there will be “significant costs associated with defending this Bill in the courts” given that Seattle is the first city to enact this type of labor law.

Seattle Councilmember Mike O'Brien.
Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien.

The council will only vote again if Mayor Murray vetoes the bill, however, a spokesperson for Councilmember Mike O’Brien said that his office does not expect that to happen. So, the legislation will become law in 30 days.

“As this ordinance takes effect, my administration will begin its work to determine what it will take to implement the law,” Murray notes in his statement. “I believe it will be necessary to seek additional clarifying legislation from the Council. I look forward to working with councilmembers in 2016 on their ordinance.”

The legislation gives drivers the ability to negotiate pay rates and employment conditions. Currently, these drivers are considered independent contractors and are not protected by traditional labor standards — including Seattle’s new $15 per hour minimum wage law. They also do not have collective bargaining rights covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

sawantobrien
Councilmember Kshama Sawant speaks in support of legislation that gives Uber, Lyft, and other “for-hire” drivers the right to unionize.

However, this legislation, first introduced by O’Brien, creates a way for drivers to gain benefits typically given to employees.

At today’s City Council meeting, packed with many supporters of the bill, Councilmember Nick Licata discussed Murray’s letter. He said that the mayor brought up two important points: That he always supports the right of workers to organize, and that Seattle will be the first jurisdiction in the nation with this type of labor law.

Licata then addressed the mayor’s concerns.

“We can deal with those,” said Licata, who co-sponsored the bill with O’Brien. “I believe the council, given that we’ve studied this issue and are now united moving forward, will work with the mayor and various departments to make sure this can be accomplished.”

Photo via UberX
Photo via UberX

Several other councilmembers also voiced strong support of the bill.

“Any councilmember who votes ‘no’ on this will clearly be saying that they care more about profits of a multibillion-dollar company than rights of Seattle workers,” said Kshama Sawant.

“This is good policy for our city,” added new councilwoman Lorena Gonzalez. “I ask all of us to ask ourselves: Do we want to use the law as a shield, or do we want to use it as a sword? I say, use it as a sword.”

David Plouffe speaks in Seattle earlier this month.
David Plouffe speaks in Seattle earlier this month.

Uber, meanwhile, is against the bill. The same goes for Lyft, as each company released statements Monday afternoon defending their decision to classify workers as contractors.

Speaking at a public event earlier this month about the benefits of Uber to Seattle’s economy, strategic policy advisor David Plouffe called the legislation “puzzling.”

“I think the ordinance is puzzling because it’s generally believed to be flatly illegal, and I assume the courts will look at that if it were to be successful,” Plouffe said. “My understanding is that a couple councilmembers here also asked the Federal Trade Commission to look at this, as they had some concerns about the anticompetitive behavior that this ordinance might be suggesting.”

Plouffe added: “At end of the day, we don’t think it makes a lot of sense and could be something that costs the city a lot of money.”

A source said last week that Plouffe met Murray one day before speaking at the event. A spokesperson for O’Brien told GeekWire that neither Plouffe or Uber reached out for a meeting while the former Uber executive was in town.

Read the full letter from Murray to the council here:

Seattle Mayor Murray letter to council RE: Uber union law

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the veto rules for council bills. 

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