The Seattle City Council began considering a bill Wednesday it claims will help give Uber and Lyft drivers a voice, but which critics say is nothing more than a giveaway to unions.
Democratic Councilman Mike O’Brien introduced the bill, which would impact contract drivers for Uber, Lyft and any other ride-sharing company. The goal, its supporters say, is to give the drivers more of a voice by allowing drivers to collectively negotiate.
“The majority of drivers for hire come from historically disadvantaged communities,” the city council noted in an issue page on its website. “Unfortunately, they are often taken advantage of by the companies that hire them or contract with them.”
Advances in digital technologies have allowed companies like Lyft and Uber to use contracting in unique ways. Companies make digital platforms where individuals can create their own business ventures, in what is known as the sharing economy.
But the sharing economy has been the subject of criticism, in part because it’s relatively unregulated and allegedly unfair to workers. Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have condemned the model, and officials at the Department of Labor have spoken out against it. Unions have been some of the more adamant rivals of the model.
O’Brien has several connections to the labor movement. According to his campaign website, most of the groups that endorsed him were unions. And one of his legislative aides is a former community organizer for the union UNITE HERE Local 8.
Contracting as a whole makes it more difficult for unions to organize workers, because unions have to pursue one contractor at a time, as opposed to all employees within a single workplace.
Though contractors can join a union, it’s much easier to unionize employees because consent doesn’t have to be unanimous. A union only has to get the majority of employees within a single bargaining unit to agree to representation, in order to become the Exclusive Representative of all the employees.
And if the union becomes the Exclusive Representative of all of the employees in a mandatory dues state, all the employees within that bargaining unit must pay union dues or fees, whether they agree with the union or not.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW) argues the Seattle City Council is proposing the change not to give employees a voice, but to make it easier for unions to organize them.
“Acting at the behest of union officials, the Seattle City Council is targeting independent drivers, such as those who contract with Uber and Lyft, for mandatory unionization and the seizure of compulsory union fees,” NRTW said in a press release. “The legality of Seattle’s imminent attempt to foist compulsory unionization on independent drivers is highly suspect and may be susceptible to legal challenge.”
The bill, NRTW notes, could undermine the ride-sharing model in several ways. It would require independent drivers to turn over personal information to union officials, and it would allow exclusive union representation of independent drivers. The bill would also authorize union officials to make agreements with companies that require drivers to be unionized as a condition of employment.
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