A federal judge on Tuesday threw out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s lawsuit over the city of Seattle’s landmark Uber unionization law, but the legal fight is likely far from over.
The law would give Uber, Lyft, and other “for hire” drivers the right to unionize, but the rules have yet to be implemented. In his ruling dismissing the suit, U.S. District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik agreed with the city that any impact from the law is purely theoretical at this point, making the lawsuit premature. He said the chamber’s arguments at this moment — before the law has been implemented — represent “a speculative chain of events controlled entirely by the choices of third parties not currently before the Court.”
The chamber filed the lawsuit in March, on behalf of Uber and taxi company Eastside for Hire, arguing that the legislation violates several federal laws and would “burden innovation, increase prices, and reduce quality and services for consumers.” GeekWire has contacted the chamber for comment and will update this post when we hear back. Update: Here’s a statement from the chamber:
“While the judge held that it is too early to decide this case, he made clear at oral argument that he stands ready to hear a challenge to Seattle’s unprecedented ordinance in the future. The City has merely delayed coming to grips with the legal flaws at the heart of this ordinance, at great cost and uncertainty to the taxpayers of Seattle. We urge the City to reevaluate whether it should defend this law in court and to reconsider its current course of implementing the ordinance.”
The ordinance lets drivers that have a minimum threshold of trips join a “Qualified Driver Representative” organization that would then allow them to negotiate pay rates and employment conditions. These organizations would have 120 days to demonstrate that “a majority of drivers for a specific company choose to be represented.” From there, they would be able to participate in collective bargaining conversations on behalf of their drivers.
Lasnik agreed with the city in his decision that it is uncertain if Uber or Eastside for Hire drivers will seek to bargain collectively, or if a driver representative will attempt to organize those drivers when the law takes effect.
It is, of course, possible that a (driver representative) will attempt to represent the drivers associated with Uber and/or Eastside as soon as the processes set forth in the ordinance commence. The Court finds, however, that it is just as likely, if not more so, that a (driver representative), once recognized, will choose to work through the procedures for the first time with a driver coordinator that has not made its antipathy toward collective action so well-known and/or is not primed to file suit immediately.
The ruling is not unexpected. Charlotte Garden, assistant professor of law at Seattle University, predicted after a hearing last month that the ruling had a good chance to go the city’s way. There are so many different groups affected by the law — the city, drivers, unions, rideshare and taxi companies — and it is unclear what will happen until the ordinance is implemented, she explained. However, she said at the time that she expected the suit to be revived later.
“I think it’s likely the court will hold that the chamber was premature, and that we will all be back here doing this later in 2016 or early 2017,” Garden said.
The ordinance had been set to go into effect Sept. 19. Last week, representatives of the city’s Department of Facilities and Administrative Services (FAS) said they needed six more months to talk to drivers and other stakeholders about important rules and details — specifically, who should be allowed to vote to collectively bargain when Uber and other ride-share companies are allowed to organize under the new law.
Here is Lasnik’s decision in full: