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For-hire drivers gather at a Seattle City Council meeting in December 2015 in support of a new law that paves the way for drivers to unionize. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Seattle’s first-of-its-kind law that allows drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft to bargain collectively has survived another legal challenge and can now go into effect.

A federal judge late Thursday tossed a lawsuit brought by a group of Uber drivers against the landmark law and simultaneously lifted an injunction stemming from a different lawsuit that barred the city from enforcing the controversial ordinance.

“Yesterday, the court cleared the way for the City to implement its first-in-the-nation law,” Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement. “In so doing, the court recognized the public importance of maintaining and promoting the safety and reliability of the for-hire transportation industry in the City of Seattle, goals which this law advances. We are very pleased with the court’s decision and will continue to vigorously defend this publicly important law on appeal.”

The drivers claimed in their suit that Seattle’s law violates federal labor law as well as their First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association by forcing them to unionize and pay dues.

“The ruling is very disappointing and means Uber and Lyft drivers will soon be targeted by Teamsters organizers with a coercive card check campaign seeking to impose one-size-fits all monopoly unionization, including forced union dues on drivers,” said Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is representing the drivers. “The decision will be appealed and we still feel strongly that this scheme to force independent drivers into union ranks not only violates federal labor law, but also these drivers’ First Amendment Constitutional rights. We’re prepared to take this case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary to defend these drivers’ rights.”

Judge Robert Lasnik issued an injunction blocking the ordinance in April, when the city was defending the law against multiple legal challenges. In a case brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of Uber, Lyft and Eastside for Hire, Lasnik decided that because of the unprecedented nature of the law, implementing it should be put on hold while the legal issues are sorted out.

Since then, Lasnik has thrown out the Chamber suit, and now the driver lawsuit. In his ruling, he wrote that circumstances have changed as more information has come out about the law in court cases.

“The novelty of the Ordinance and the complexity of the antitrust claim convinced the Court maintaining the status quo was appropriate until a more careful and rigorous review of the issues could be completed,” Lasnik wrote. “That review revealed that the antitrust claim lacked merit: the serious questions the Court perceived have been resolved in the City’s favor, and plaintiff makes no attempt to establish error or otherwise show a likelihood of success on appeal.”

Uber drivers in advocacy group Drive Forward outside City Hall. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Lasnik went on to say that a delay in implementing the law for a couple months while several legal challenges remained ongoing made sense, but a long delay for an appeal without drastically different evidence is not in the public interest.

A legal challenge from Uber subsidiary Raiser, seeking to block several provisions of the ordinance, was defeated earlier this year. In a statement responding to the decision to lift the injunction, Uber’s general manager for the Pacific Northwest Brooke Steger said the company will “continue fight to protect independent drivers.”

“The court’s ruling is not surprising. Unfortunately, if allowed to stand, thousands of drivers will be negatively impacted. The original ordinance passed by the City Council was never about benefiting drivers, but about helping Teamsters and taxi companies. We will continue fighting to protect independent drivers and prevent turning back the clock on transportation in Seattle.”

Even with the legal victories, a few steps remain before drivers can actually form a union. The injunction came in April simultaneous with a deadline for ride-hailing companies to hand over driver contact info to Teamsters Local 117, the union certified to represent drivers, so they could be contacted for a union vote.

With the legal challenges out of the way, ride-hailing companies will have to hand over driver information by Aug. 30. The union would have then had 120 days to get support for collective bargaining from a majority of drivers.

Here was the city’s timeline for the ordinance, prior to the legal challenges.

The full timeline for the ride-hailing collective bargaining ordinance. (City of Seattle Chart)

The law, passed last year, gives drivers the ability to band together to negotiate pay rates and employment conditions, among other conditions. The law lets organizations that want to represent drivers get contact information from the ride-hailing companies to reach out to drivers and try and drum up support for collective bargaining.

Currently, these drivers are considered independent contractors and are not protected by traditional labor standards — including Seattle’s $15 per hour minimum wage law. They also do not have collective bargaining rights covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

The most controversial aspect of the law concerns which drivers get to vote on collective bargaining. New drivers who have been with their respective ride-hailing companies for less than 90 days prior to today’s kick-off of the law will not get a vote. Drivers also need to have made 52 trips starting or ending in Seattle during any three-month period in the last year to be eligible.

Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft favor giving every driver a vote, without the type of restrictions in Seattle’s rules.

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