This post originally appeared at The Stand.
Drivers in Seattle’s for-hire industry won the right to collectively bargain over their wages and working conditions through a historic first-in-the-nation ordinance passed unanimously by the Seattle City Council on Monday. The measure, sponsored by Council member Mike O’Brien, will now move to Mayor Ed Murray’s desk for his signature.
Drivers and community supporters celebrated the bill’s passage, calling it a turning point toward greater protections for workers in a changing economic landscape.
“By giving us rights, this law will help all of the drivers and also help our communities,” said Peter Kuel, an Uber driver and member of the leadership council of the App-Based Drivers Association.
Under the proposal, drivers would have the ability to come together to choose a non-profit organization to represent them. Once authorized, the organization could engage in collective bargaining on the drivers’ behalf. The new law would apply to all taxi drivers, for-hire drivers and drivers for app-based dispatch companies, such as Uber and Lyft.
“This legislation allows drivers to have a voice and negotiate with the companies,” wrote Teresa Mosqueda of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) in testimony submitted to the Seattle City Council. “It is smart, innovative, and it keeps pace with the changes in the app-based economy, which have left many workers without basic workplace protections. This represents the next, and necessary, step in addressing rights for the on-demand workforce.”
Over the past several months, for-hire drivers have become increasingly vocal about the need for change in the industry.
“Since I started driving for Uber, Uber has cut our pay without notice, terminated drivers without giving a reason and blocked our efforts to improve our working conditions,” Kuel said. “We’re looking for fairness and the ability to earn a living wage.”
Taxicab operators also expressed their support of the proposal.
“As a cab driver, making a living has become really hard,” said Aamar Kahn, who drives a wheelchair-accessible taxi for Yellow Cab. “All we are asking for is a level playing field and that can’t happen until drivers have the right to speak up.”
Because of their disputed status as independent contractors, for-hire drivers don’t have the ability to unionize through a traditional [National Labor Relations Board] election process, and they also aren’t covered under Seattle’s wage theft, sick leave or new $15/hour minimum wage law.
To address these inequities, drivers approached Teamsters Local 117 for assistance in getting organized. Taxi drivers formed the Western Washington Taxi Cab Operators Association in 2012. In 2013, drivers for app-based dispatch companies formed the App-Based Drivers Association. Both organizations work closely with Local 117 to ensure that drivers are treated fairly.
“I want to congratulate drivers on winning a major victory today,” said John Scearcy, secretary-treasurer of Local 117. “All workers, no matter where they work or the nature of their work, deserve the opportunity to have a voice. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies the right of workers to bargain collectively as a fundamental human right. Now these workers have that right.”
WSLC President Jeff Johnson issued the following statement:
Yesterday, in an 8–0 Seattle Council vote, history was made when an ordinance allowing on-demand economy workers, Uber and Lyft, the right to be represented by a union and to collectively bargain over wages, hours and conditions of labor. This is a victory for workplace justice and democracy.
This is the beginning of the end of on-demand employers privatizing the profits and socializing the risks. Every worker deserves the right to a voice at work and a right to earn a fair standard of living. Our hats are off to the Seattle City Council, Teamsters 117 and to the hardworking drivers for Uber and Lyft.
While both Uber and Lyft have indicated they may challenge the drivers’ right to have a voice in the courts, drivers were undeterred.
“This bill means a lot to us drivers,” said Fasil Teka of the App-Based Drivers Association. “It can have a positive impact, not just for drivers in Seattle, but for independent contractors across the country.”