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Uber and Lyft unionization law on hold again for appeal

The suit, dismissed earlier this month, is being appealed to a higher court


As of Tuesday afternoon, a 2015 law allowing drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft to unionize is back on hold—at least for now.

Two lawsuits blocking the law were dismissed earlier this month—and in both lawsuits, the plaintiffs had said they’d intended to appeal. The appeal in question is a suit filed back in March by the United States Chamber of Commerce.

The suit argues that because drivers for Uber and similar companies are contractors and not technically employees, they don’t have the right to organize. They also argue that the drivers’ collective bargaining would violate federal antitrust law.

Technically, independent contractors aren’t given the same protections as other types of employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)—but Seattle city attorneys argued that the city can provide protections for the drivers even if federal law doesn’t.

A federal judge in Seattle had sided with the city in the case when the lawsuit was dismissed earlier this month. With the dismissal of a second lawsuit, the law was clear to move forward.

But with the Chamber of Commerce’s appeal pending, a Ninth Circuit panel put implementation once again on hold temporarily.

“The Court’s ruling does not speak to the merits of the Chamber’s claims, and allows for orderly briefing in the matter,” said Kimberly Mills, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s office. Mills said that the city will file its opposition “early next week.”

Uber opted to not wade too far into this one. Pacific northwest general manager Brooke Steger kept it brief: “We appreciate the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals taking the time necessary to consider the motion.”

Teamsters Local 117, who have been poised to unionize the drivers since talks of the law began, said they were “disappointed” by the ruling in a statement.

“We are confident the 9th Circuit will uphold the lower court’s ruling that gives drivers a voice as intended under the law,” said Teamsters Local 117 secretary-treasurer Jon Scearcy in a statement.

The Teamsters also included a statement from driver Mustafe Abdi, part of the Teamsters-backed App-Based Drivers Association: “[Ride-share companies] say we are partners, we are not partners. We need medical, we need retirement, we need Social Security. We don’t make enough money, we don’t feel safe.”

Meanwhile, another drivers’ association, Drive Forward, backed by companies Uber and Eastside for Hire, is taking umbrage with finer points of the unionization law today. (They have historically opposed the unionization law altogether.)

Eleven drivers signed a letter requesting the city alter the rules to allow all drivers to have a vote about whether to unionize or not, instead of just those who have made 52 trips in a three-month period. (The assumption, as the Seattle Times puts it, “has been that full-time drivers are more likely to support unionization and part-time drivers are less so.”)

The letter, provided to Curbed Seattle by Drive Forward, says that “the city is silencing the very drivers it claims to be trying to help” and “it’s clear that the Teamsters are pressuring the city to do what’s in the best interest of the Teamsters, not what’s best for drivers.”

Another lawsuit filed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Freedom Foundation, both of whom support anti-union measures, was also dismissed, but National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has said they’ll appeal that decision, too. (That suit also argues that the law violates the NLRA.)

Uber also attempted to block the law back in March, alleging the law was arbitrary in naming which drivers were allowed to collectively bargain. That effort also failed.

The Seattle City Council unanimously approved the law, boosted by the Teamsters Local 117, back in December 2015.