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Uber and Lyft unionization law can move forward after legal decision [Updated]

A federal court ruling lifted a second lawsuit

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Update August 28: The Teamsters Local 117 issued a statement late Friday. It’s included in our coverage below.

After clearing a second major legal hurdle, a law allowing drivers for ride-hailing companies to unionize can move forward.

The law, first presented by city councilor Mike O’Brien and passed by City Council in December 2015, would apply to drivers for ride services like Uber and Lyft, had been on hold pending legal challenges. But late Thursday, a federal judge in Seattle dismissed a lawsuit blocking the law.

The suit had been filed by a group of Uber drivers, along with National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Freedom Foundation, both of whom support anti-union, right-to-work measures.

The suit had argued that the law violates the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) because drivers are independent contractors.

They had also claimed that the Drivers Privacy Protection Act prevented Uber from handing over their list of applicable drivers to the union.

In a statement, city attorney Pete Holmes said he was “pleased” with the ruling: “the court recognized the public importance of maintaining and promoting the safety and reliability of the for-hire transportation industry in the City of Seattle.”

Holmes said the city will “continue to vigorously defend this publicly important law on appeal.”

Uber and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation were, understandably, not as pleased.

The Foundation’s vice president called the ruling “disappointing” and a “scheme to force independent drivers into union ranks.” He said they’d be appealing the decision to a higher court.

Uber General Manager for the Pacific Northwest Brooke Steger said in a statement that “thousands of drivers will be negatively impacted,” claiming that “the original ordinance passed by the City Council was never about benefiting drivers, but about helping Teamsters and taxi companies.”

Another lawsuit filed by the United States Chamber of Commerce, also alleging the law violates the NRLA, was thrown out earlier this month, and a motion for injunction pending appeal was denied. But the law remained on hold while this other challenge was addressed.

In a statement, Teamsters Local 117 said they’re “pleased” with the ruling.

“For-hire drivers in Seattle should have the same freedom afforded to millions of working people across the country,” read the statement posted on their website. “They should have the right to stand together in their union to improve their pay and working conditions. They should have the opportunity to contribute to improving safety and reliability to benefit the traveling public. This law enables them to accomplish those goals.”

They added that affected companies like Uber should “stop their efforts to disenfranchise their drivers by attempting to undermine the law” and instead use the ruling as “a real opportunity to partner with drivers to improve our economy and lift up our community.”

Now that the law can take effect, it’s up to the drivers whether or not they want to be a part of the union. Companies like Uber will have to provide some driver rosters to the Teamsters, who will have 120 days to get the majority of eligible drivers on board for collective bargaining.

Under the law, drivers are eligible for a vote on collective bargaining if they’ve made at least 52 trips within a given three-month period and have been with their company for 90 days or more.

This article has been updated with additional information and with a statement from Teamsters 117.