Seattle’s controversial ordinance that lets Uber and Lyft drivers unionize is on hold yet again, throwing another legal wrench into the first-of-its-kind law, which has been facing challenges since it was passed last year.
The law has fended off several of those challenges: Most recently, the two remaining lawsuits were thrown out and a delay on enforcing the law lifted. With that, it looked to be smooth sailing for the city to implement the landmark law and require companies like Uber and Lyft to hand over driver contact information to union representatives by today, Aug. 30.
However, now that milestone has been wiped away by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals thanks to a temporary injunction granted Tuesday. The plaintiff in one of the lawsuits against the ordinance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, asked for the injunction as part of a request to delay implementation of the law until the appeal has been decided. The injunction stays in place until the court decides whether or not to delay the ordinance during the appeal process.
That conflicts with a separate decision last week, from U.S. District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik, that cleared the way for the city to resume enforcing the law.
In addition to the chamber case, a group of 11 Uber drivers represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation are appealing yet another decision by Lasnik to throw out a lawsuit they filed back in March.
“This scheme is simply a union power grab by the Teamsters who are looking for more forced union dues, and it violates federal law and these driver’s First Amendment rights,” said Mark Mix, president of the foundation. “Further, permitting ridesharing drivers to be forced into a union monopoly would end the flexibility that attracts many independent drivers to work with Uber and Lyft. We are committed to defending the rights of these drivers who want nothing to do with the Teamsters union.”
As the legal gears continue to grind, drivers both for and against unionization are making their voices heard. Teamsters Local 117, the sole group certified to represent drivers, said in a press release that it will continue to fight to unionize drivers.
“We’ve been waiting for two years to be union, to be human beings,” Mustafe Abdi, an Uber driver and member of the App-Based Drivers Association, said in the Teamsters release. “They say we are partners, we are not partners. We need medical, we need retirement, we need Social Security. We don’t make enough money, we don’t feel safe.”
Today, drivers associated with a group founded by Uber and Eastside For Hire called Drive Forward are protesting at Seattle Municipal Tower what they say is a refusal by the city to adjust its rules to allow more drivers to vote on unionization. This isn’t the first time the group has picketed in Seattle, as drivers showed up at City Hall in January to voice their opposition to the ordinance.
“By refusing to update the eligibility requirements for qualifying drivers to allow all currently active drivers to vote in the upcoming union election, the City is silencing the very drivers it claims to be trying to help,” the organization, which says it now numbers 1,500 drivers, wrote in a letter to Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council. “This is indefensible.”
The distinction of which drivers get to vote on collective bargaining continues to be the key issue for many opponents of the law. Drivers who signed up with their respective ride-hailing companies after Oct. 17 of last year, three months before the law went into effect in January, do not get a vote. Drivers also need to have made 52 trips starting or ending in Seattle during any three-month period in the year prior to the January onset date.
Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft favor giving every driver a vote, without the type of restrictions in Seattle’s rules. In a blog post Tuesday, Lyft said that these rules would disenfranchise approximately 70 percent of its drivers, and for Uber, that number is about half.