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

Uber is suing the city of Seattle, aiming to block key provisions of the city’s landmark law — set to go into effect today — that lets drivers for ride-hailing companies decide if they want to bargain collectively.

Uber subsidiary Rasier filed a petition in King County Superior Court Tuesday to block recently-published rules from Seattle’s department of Finance and Administrative Services that cover issues like which drivers get a say in whether they want to unionize, working conditions subject to bargaining and how an organization gets certified to represent drivers exclusively.

In court documents, Uber called the city’s process flawed and asked the court to suspend the new rules. Uber wants the city to go back and tweak the rules so that they better reflect driver conditions in the ride-hailing industry.

“The City failed to provide comprehensive rules and disregarded the facts and circumstances of drivers and the industry,” according to Uber’s petition. “Moreover, the City’s rules are inconsistent with fundamental labor law principles ensuring every worker has a voice in whether to be represented by a labor organization.”

The Seattle City Attorney’s office said it will “vigorously defend FAS’s rule-making process,” and that it would further respond to Uber’s claims in future court filings.

Lyft, one of Uber’s main competitors in the industry, but somewhat of an ally during the implementation of the unionization law, issued the following statement: “We continue to believe that every driver who would be covered by a union agreement should have the right to vote on it. The City’s rules, which would disenfranchise a large percentage of drivers, are fundamentally unfair and undemocratic.”

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.

Uber app
(Uber Photo)

Uber said in the filing that it is taking the matter to court because it didn’t have any other judicial means for challenging the new rules. Uber, which is represented by Davis Wright Tremaine, argued that the city’s process was incomplete, and that a survey designed to learn more about drivers was flawed and used to justify an “arbitrary line” that excluded many drivers from having a say in unionization.

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.

[Related: Uber and Lyft drivers protest union ordinance in Seattle, say law would ‘threaten our livelihood’]

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

“Rather than allowing all drivers to vote on whether or not they will be represented by a labor organization, FAS limited the voting population to drivers meeting a significant trip threshold before an arbitrary cutoff date,” according to court documents. “As a result, the City is, without a rational basis, effectively silencing the voices of thousands of drivers on decisions that will affect their work.

The city planned to give organizations that want to represent drivers until Feb. 16 to turn in a request to be certified by the city. The city will decide which organizations are eligible to represent drivers in March, and then those organizations will have two weeks to let the ride-hailing companies know they intend to organize drivers. Ride-hailing companies will be required to turn over driver contact information to organizers in April. That starts a 120-day clock for organizers to gather support from a majority of drivers for collective bargaining.


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

This is not the first legal challenge of the first-of-its-kind law. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit in March 2016 against the city of Seattle, representing Uber and Eastside for Hire, arguing that the legislation violates several federal laws and would “burden innovation, increase prices, and reduce quality and services for consumers.” A federal judge dismissed the suit in August, but at the time, observers contended that the legal fight wasn’t over.

In the past few months the city has struggled to implement the landmark law. City staff asked for an additional six months from the original September onset date to figure out some of the key issues, but a frustrated City Council Education, Equity and Governance Committee granted a shorter extension to January.

Here is Uber’s full petition:

Rasier (Uber) King County Superior Court petition by Nat Levy on Scribd

Developing story, more to come.

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