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Chamber Sues Seattle to Halt On-Demand Driver Unionization; Uber Launches Phone Call Pressure Campaign


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When the city of Seattle passed first-of-its kind legislation to allow Uber and Lyft drivers to organize, a lengthy court battle was predicted.  Now, that shoe has dropped with the Chamber of Commerce (CoC) filing a lawsuit against the city over the ordinance. They argue that it violates federal antitrust laws:

“Seattle and thousands of other municipalities would be free to adopt their own disparate regulatory regimes, which would … inhibit the free flow of commerce among private service providers around the Nation.”

In a statement. Uber added that the lawsuit:

“…raises serious questions not only about whether the city has run afoul of federal laws, but also about the impact on drivers who rely on ride-sharing to earn flexible income”.

The claims delve deeper into labor law questions, arguing that the City of Seattle cannot make a decision about the employment status of Uber and Lyft drivers before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) does.  The NLRB has four other cases open on this topic and is expected to make a blanket statement on all of them.   

Experts are split on the likely outcome of the Seattle ordinance.  Speaking to the Washington Times, former interim Secretary of Labor, Seth Harris, said the odds are about even:

“It’s not an open and shut case.  I’m not aware of any prior case that made it to the Supreme Court that purported to create a labor relations system for independent contractors.”

Due to the implications for employers regarding unionization of workers in the on-demand economy, the fight will be torturous.  The CoC and Uber could push the issue until it is heard by the Supreme Court.  

In the interim, the CoC and Uber have teamed up to begin a pressure campaign to influence drivers.  In their lawsuit, the COC warned that, ”Many of its members have started and will continue to expend both time and money to educate their drivers about the disadvantages of choosing to be represented by a union or other entity under the law.”

The Seattle Times recently reported that Uber has begun calling drivers and warning them that unionization “would not be a good fit.”  

“They’re trying to brainwash the drivers,” Fasil Teka, a 40-year-old Uber driver who supports unionization, said.  “It’s not the right thing to do.”

Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who crafted and sponsored the ordinance, echoed Teka’s sentiment:

I’m disappointed to hear this.  These are typical anti-worker tactics. I continue to hold out hope that Uber will be pro-worker, but this isn’t consistent with that.”

A script for the phone calls has been made public.


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