A federal judge on Thursday rejected a challenge to the city's first-in-the-nation Uber unionization ordinance, clearing the way for Seattle ride-share drivers to collectively bargain.
Seattle’s City Council passed an ordinance in 2015 granting ride-share drivers, who are contractors, not employees, the right to collectively negotiate with companies for better wages and working conditions. Under the law, only drivers who have completed 52 rides within Seattle in a three-month period in the last year are eligible to vote on union matters. The ordinance went into effect in January 2016, but since then, it’s been held up by a number of legal challenges.
In his court order yesterday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik rejected claims from 11 drivers that the ordinance would coerce them into joining a union and violate their First Amendment right to associate by compelling them unionize. The drivers are represented by the Freedom Foundation and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund. Jeff Rhodes, a spokesperson for the Freedom Foundation, said the group plans to appeal the ruling within the next week.
In a statement, Uber General Manager for the Pacific Northwest Brooke Steger said Lasnik’s order is “not surprising.” She added, "Unfortunately, if allowed to stand, thousands of drivers will be negatively impacted. The original ordinance passed by the City Council was never about benefiting drivers, but about helping Teamsters and taxi companies.”
Judge Lasnik’s ruling was the second blow this month to opponents of the city’s Uber unionization law. On August 1, Lasnik dismissed a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claiming that the ordinance violated federal labor and anti-trust laws. The Chamber has appealed Lasnik ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
When Lasnik dismissed the Chamber’s lawsuit, he kept an injunction blocking Seattle from moving forward with the ordinance, pending his decision on the Freedom Foundation’s lawsuit. Yesterday, Lasnik dissolved that injunction. He also rejected another request from the Commerce to block the law pending its appeal.
The appeals from the Chamber and the Freedom Foundation won’t stop the city from moving forward with enforcing the ordinance, said Assistant City Attorney Mike Ryan.
Yesterday’s ruling means that Uber, Lyft and other similar companies must turnover a list of contractors to Teamsters Local 117, the union that applied to represent the ride-share drivers.
Outside of the courts, Uber has already mounted a preemptive campaign to scare drivers away from unionizing, including podcasts, television ads and texts and emails to drivers.