Seattle City Council member Mike OBrien introduced a bill that will allow app-based drivers to collectively bargain—if the city can successfully defend the law in court.
Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien has introduced a bill that will allow app-based drivers to collectively bargain—if the city can successfully defend the law in court. The full council will vote on O'Brien's measure today. City of Seattle

It's been more than three months—and lots of closed-door legal meetings—since Council Member Mike O'Brien introduced a bill that will give drivers for Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing services in Seattle a way to unionize.

Today, O'Brien's colleagues will weigh in on whether they support the idea and, as a result, whether they're willing to commit the city to defending it in court. (Well, almost all of O'Brien's colleagues. Sally Bagshaw is conveniently out today.)

If the bill passes, Seattle would be the first city ever to grant app-based drivers these rights. The city would give lists of drivers to nonprofits or existing unions interested in organizing them. If a majority of Seattle drivers are on board with being union-organized, then the bill will end up forcing the companies to bargain. The bill could improve life for app-based drivers and set the stage for an entirely new type of labor union for the tech economy, where lots of workers are, like app-based drivers, considered independent contractors instead of employees.

Again, that's all if the bill survives in court. Uber and Lyft oppose the proposal and are all but guaranteed to sue.

At City Hall today, the bill's chances look good. It passed 7-0 out of a council committee in October. Council President Tim Burgess's office says he plans to support it and O'Brien likely also has "yes" votes from Council Members Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata, and Lorena González. (That's a majority.)

That leaves Tom Rasmussen, Bruce Harrell, and Jean Godden, none of whom could be reached for comment. Rasmussen has been skeptical and could vote no; Harrell and Godden both claim to be strongly supportive of labor rights, but can be unpredictable on controversial votes. Mayor Ed Murray has avoided taking a stance on the bill.

A lot has happened since O'Brien introduced the measure. Lyft and Uber drivers have complained about possible retaliation from the companies for organizing. (Both companies deny those claims).

Uber, meanwhile, has been running a bit of a shadow campaign against the bill, lobbying city council members and running new advertising about how great it is to drive for Uber. The Internet Association, a lobbying group representing Lyft and Uber, ran an op-ed in the Seattle Times calling the law "shortsighted" and Uber's top advisor came to Seattle to say the ordinance is "puzzling." And just last week, the company sued the law firm Keller Rohrback to try to stop the release of public records about the number of Uber drivers in Seattle.

Uber is also fighting drivers elsewhere. In California, the company is facing a class action lawsuit from drivers who want to be classified as employees instead of independent contractors (independent contractor status is why Uber drivers can't currently unionize). Last week, Uber released its new terms of service for drivers with a "clause that would exclude anyone who signs it from participating in current or future class-action lawsuits," the Los Angeles Times reports. (Drivers have a month to opt out by email.)

The Seattle City Council will vote on the bill today at its 2 p.m. meeting. You can watch live here.