This past Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed against the city of Seattle over the ordinance allowing the formation of an Uber and Lyft union. The city has been praised by worker’s rights advocates this past year due to its progressive “pro-worker” policies - especially its $15/hr minimum wage.
However, the city of Seattle faced considerable backlash upon the passing of this ordinance back in December, which has been widely criticized as illegal according to federal labor laws. And although it was passed unanimously by Seattle’s city council, the Mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray, refused to sign the ordinance. Controversy aside, Seattle became the first city to enact legislation that would allow workers of ridesharing app companies the right to unionize.
The dismissal of the case against the city of Seattle, filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in March, is a win for Uber and Lyft union advocates. At least for now. The judge sided with the city who argued that the suit was filed too early because the ordinance had yet to take effect. U.S. District Judge, Robert Lasnik, concluded in his eight-page opinion that “the Chamber has no legal standing to pursue the claims asserted in this litigation.”
In response to the ruling, the Chamber stated that Seattle has merely “delayed coming to grips with the legal flaws at the heart of this ordinance.”
Questions remain over who would be eligible to become a member of such a union. According to a statement made by Uber in the Seattle Times, 50 percent of their drivers work “fewer than 10 hours a week; 70 percent do other full-time or part-time work; and 65 percent vary the hours they drive each week. It’s not clear a traditional union can serve such a large and varied group of people.”
The flexibility of Uber and Lyft is a major draw for a lot of their drivers. Getting to create your own hours and work when you want is a luxury afforded to contractors, not employees. Currently, drivers for both companies are considered contractors, and aren’t privy to the benefits of full employment. This keeps costs down for the companies and consumers as well. For a lot of drivers, this flexibility is a positive, and there are growing fears that unionization will do more harm than good.
The Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that the fight is far from over. Judge Lasnik made it clear in oral arguments that while the case was filed too early, “he stands ready to hear a challenge to Seattle’s unprecedented ordinance in the future.”
Unionization could affect consumers the most. For the time being, ridesharing apps are far more affordable than taxi companies- and far more accessible. I was in Vancouver B.C. this past weekend where ridesharing services don’t yet exist. It took over an hour to hail a cab, and we paid substantially more than we would have if we had ridden with Uber or Lyft. There is no question that the people who benefit most from ride-sharing platforms are consumers, night-life businesses, and part-time drivers. Unionization could jeopardize this, and drastically reduce the differences between taxis and ridesharing services.