Seattle Approves ‘Groundbreaking’ Uber Union Bill

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The Seattle city council approved Monday a first-of-its-kind measure allowing sharing economy contractors to unionize collectively as opposed to individually.

The bill was introduced by Democratic Councilman Mike O’Brien. It is designed to provide contractors in the sharing economy the right to collectively bargain which is guaranteed to regular employees. Critics, however, have noted concern the measure undermines contracting and what makes sharing economy businesses so successful.

“We’ve heard from Seattle drivers making sub-minimum wage, and companies like Uber have turned a deaf ear to their concerns,” O’Brien said in a statement. “This bill was only introduced out of necessity after witnessing how little power drivers themselves had in working for a living wage.”

The main issue is how being a contractor is different than an employee. While contracting has traditionally been used on a fairly limited scale, advances in digital technologies have allowed companies like Lyft and Uber to use it in unique and more frequent ways. Companies make digital platforms where individuals can create their own business ventures.

“The ordinance is puzzling because I think it’s generally believed to be flatly illegal what they’re trying to do,” Uber Chief Adviser David Plouffe said during a recent talk, according to The Associated Press. “And I assume the courts will look at that if it were to be successful.”

Employees within a single workplace are often classified as a single unit. Contractors, though, are considered their own ventures but often provide services to a larger company. While unions can organize contractors, its much more difficult. Contractors usually can only be unionized one at a time as opposed employees in a single workplace which can be organized all at once.

“This is groundbreaking legislation and I am proud Seattle is continuing to lead the nation in advancing labor standards for our workers,” O’Brien added.

To unionize all employees in a workplace, a union only has to get the majority to agree with representation. After that the union will become the exclusive representative for all employees in that workplace. Teamsters Local 117 worked with city lawmakers in drafting the measure.

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