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US: Seattle passes law allowing Uber drivers to unionize

 |  December 14, 2015

The city of Seattle passed a law Monday that would grant Uber and Lyft drivers the right to form labor unions, a bold regulatory maneuver that could test the labor model behind the popular ride-hailing apps.

The measure passed the Seattle City Council in an 8-0 vote, and the city’s Democratic mayor still needs to sign it. But the law will almost certainly face a legal challenge and could be tied up in court for years.

Like a lot of other companies in the so-called gig economy, Uber and Lyft classify their drivers as independent contractors, rather than employees. Under federal law, independent contractors do not have the right to band together and bargain collectively over wages and working conditions the way employees can.

That’s where Seattle’s city council has stepped in. Under the bill passed Monday, “for-hire drivers” would be legally entitled to seek out “exclusive driver representatives” for the purpose of collective bargaining — i.e., labor unions. If a majority of drivers at a particular company designate a union as their representative, then by law the company will have to bargain with the union within the city of Seattle.

The law has implications well beyond Uber and Lyft. Many traditional taxi drivers are classified as independent contractors as well, and would have new rights under the law.

“The Seattle law is intended to give collective bargaining rights to those who are independent contractors,” Liebman said. “To that extent, there’s no preemption problem.”

If the labor law argument doesn’t hold, the industry could still fight the legislation with antitrust law. Under that scenario, Uber and others may argue that drivers banding together as independent contractors — and presumably raising the cost of their labor — amounts to illegal price-fixing.

Full content: The Journal Observer

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