Judge temporarily blocks Seattle law allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize

SEATTLE — A federal judge in Seattle has temporarily blocked the city’s first-in-the-nation law that attempts to allow Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers to unionize.

The law, passed in 2015, had been scheduled to go into effect this week.

Seattle’s law, the first of its kind in the country, allows Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers — who are categorized as independent contractors, not employees — to form a union and collectively bargain for things like pay, benefits and working conditions.

It was challenged by two separate lawsuits, one from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and one from about a dozen Uber and Lyft drivers — backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Freedom Foundation, groups that fight for right-to-work laws and other conservative, anti-union legislation across the country.

“The issues raised in this litigation are novel, they are complex, and they reside at the intersection of national policies that have been decades in the making,” Judge Robert Lasnik wrote in granting a preliminary injunction, halting the law from going into effect. “The public will be well-served by maintaining the status quo while the issues are given careful judicial consideration as to whether the city’s well-meaning ordinance can survive the scrutiny our laws require.”

While the court battle plays out, both sides had been moving forward, anticipating a possible eventual vote by drivers about whether they want to unionize or not.

Teamsters Local 117 recently applied and got permission from the city to begin efforts to organize drivers at 12 local ride-hailing or taxi companies.

The taxi and ride share companies would have had to give Local 117 a list of their drivers, with contact information. Now they will not.

And Uber and Lyft, not content to pin their hopes on the courtroom, are waging aggressive campaigns to convince their drivers to vote against the union.

In court, both the chamber and the Uber drivers argue that federal law, the National Labor Relations Act, does not give contractors the right to unionize and that it cannot be pre-empted by Seattle’s law.

The chamber’s lawsuit argues that drivers are competitors, not co-workers, and that allowing them to unionize is anti-competitive and amounts to “forming a cartel.”

Seattle argues that although contractors are not covered by federal unionization laws, the federal government left state and local governments free to regulate a union of independent contractors.

The NLRA explicitly excludes five categories of workers from its coverage and protections — public sector workers, agriculture workers, domestic workers, supervisors and independent contractors.

The first three are allowed to unionize under various state laws.


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