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Seattle Closer to Workaround for Unionizing Uber, Lyft Drivers; Uber Exec Hit With Sexual Harassment Suit

Local 117 has had great success organizing workers in the area

Local 117 has had great success organizing workers in the area

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A bill that would allow Uber and Lyft drivers to enter collective bargaining agreements with their employers via non-profit organizations has advanced in the Seattle City Council.  The bill passed on a 7-0 vote, is sponsored by councilmember Mike O’Brien, and is supported by Teamsters Local 117. 

It is believed to be the nation’s first bill of its kind and legal challenges are expected. Uber and Lyft drivers are classified as independent contractors and therefore are not subject to the rules of the National Labor Relations Act.  

The city council has been making great strides with respect to workers’ rights.  In the past year, Seattle has raised its minimum wage, criminalized wage theft, and mandated paid sick leave.  At the press conference held to announce his bill in September, O’Brien said:

“Seattle has made great gains in recent years in promoting fair labor practices and the opportunity to earn a decent living, this is the next step in that work.  Too many drivers in this industry are unable to earn a living wage, or even the minimum wage. So we are embarking on an innovative new approach to raising standards for drivers in an industry that prides itself on innovation. We know that when workers come together to use their collective voice, they can make meaningful changes in their pay and working conditions.”

A final vote from the nine-member council has yet to be scheduled.  Many supporters of the bill hope the parties involved can negotiate an agreement ahead of the vote so that the city can avoid litigation.  Speaking to the Seattle Times, O’Brien addressed the potential for a lawsuit:

“I’m always concerned (about the city losing a lawsuit).  That’s something we balance when we’re passing legislation that hasn’t been done before. There’s a trade-off between that risk and the benefit we would get for workers. I believe the upside on this is worth more than the downside.”

Councilmember Bruce Harrell voted in favor of the bill, calling it “a piece of legislation that heads us in the right direction.”  He, too, hopes to avoid litigation, however:

“The elephant in the room is that this is going to result in litigation. That means everybody loses except the lawyers.  It would be ideal for the parties to work on this, and we as council members should encourage them to do that.”

In other semi-Uber-related news, a former live-in domestic worker for executives at Uber and Airbnb, Julieta Yang, has filed a lawsuit claiming sexual harassment and wage theft against her former employers.  The lawsuit claims that Julieta Yang was not properly paid the minimum wage and overtime in addition to facing a “sexually hostile work and home environment.”  

Via SF Weekly:

A complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court alleges that Cameron Poetzscher, the head of corporate development for Uber, and Varsha Rao, the head of global operations for Airbnb, subjected Julieta Yang to a “sexually hostile work and home environment” and failed to pay her the minimum wage and overtime.

A 45-year-old mother of three from the Phillipines who worked for Rao and Poetzscher, a married couple, for seven years, Yang announced her lawsuit at a press conference at the Bayanihan Community Center this morning.

“God will help me in this fight,” she said. “I know there are many others like me in this city.”

Yang is being represented by the Asian Law Caucus and the Women’s Employment Rights Clinic at Golden Gate University of Law.  


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