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Seattle One Step Closer to Setting Crucial Precedent for Unionization of Gig Workers

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A federal court judge has knocked down one more hurdle on the path toward unionization of the gig economy.

Last December, Seattle became the first city in the country to allow app-based gig drivers to unionize. Mayor Ed Murray refused to sign the legislation, calling it “flawed,” but a unanimous vote by the Seattle City Council made sure the ordinance became law. Predictably, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a filed a 31-page complaint, claiming the ordinance was in violation of antitrust and labor laws. But just last week, in a move “almost as surprising” as the passage of the measure itself, Judge Robert S. Lasnik dismissed the complaint:

Federal court Judge Robert S. Lasnik granted the City’s Motion to Dismiss the Chamber’s Complaint, stating that the member companies that the Chamber represented did not have standing to pursue the claims stated in the complaint. Specifically, the court reasoned that the “Chamber’s theory of standing relies on a speculative chain of events controlled entirely by the choices of third parties not currently before the Court.” 

The court said that alleged future injuries are not “actual,” nor did the Chamber show that they are “certainly impending” or otherwise imminent.”

The ordinance is scheduled to take effect on September 19. Roadbloack remain, however, before the newly minted App-Based Drivers Association (affiliated with Teamsters Local 117) can begin reaching out to Über and Lyft drivers:

Very few of the “flawed” details have been worked out by City Council. Most critically, there is no current answer as to which driver-partners will be allowed to vote on collective bargaining issues, and what weight their vote might be given. For example, we still don’t know whether the standard will be “one driver, one vote” or “one ride, one vote” (giving more prolific driver-partners a heavier vote).

Just last week, the City of Seattle told the federal judge in the now-dismissed case that it may voluntarily delay implementing the new unionization ordinance by six months so it can get a few more of its ducks in a row in the midst of a divided public comment process.

The case was dismissed without prejudice, so the Chamber can potentially amend its complaint and try again. It is unclear if they will choose to do so.


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