Worker Rights Or Union Favors, Seattle Takes On Uber

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The Seattle city council plans to vote Monday on whether to allow Uber and other sharing economy contractors to unionize collectively in a move that some argues is illegal and undermines the business model.

Contracting is a pivotal component of the sharing economy. While the model gives workers significant flexibility and freedom, it also lack certain protections normal employees would be guaranteed. Seattle lawmakers have proposed a bill, its supporters claim, will give the sharing economy workers more of a voice by allowing them to collectively negotiate.

“This is an opportunity for Seattle to once again play a leading national role in promoting workers’ rights,” the city council detailed on its website. “As you probably know, these drivers are portrayed as ‘independent contractors,’ with none of the rights that other workers have.”

The bill was introduced by Democratic Councilman Mike O’Brien. Teamsters Local 117 worked with city lawmakers in drafting the measure. The problem is, the bill may undermine what made the sharing economy so successful. 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.

“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.”

The sharing economy is an incredibly new model and its impact on established law is still being understood. For instance, unlike what the Los Angeles Times has reported, it’s actually not true the sharing economy prevents workers from unionizing. Rather, contracting just makes it more difficult for unions to organize workers because they have to pursue one contractor at a time as opposed to an entire workplace.

Unlike employees in a workplace, contractors are technically independent ventures. Though contractors can join a union, it’s much easier to unionize employees because consent doesn’t have to be unanimous throughout the workplace.

To unionize all employees in a workplace, a union only has to get the majority of employees to agree to representation. After that the union will become the exclusive representative for all employees in that workplace. If that workplace exists 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.

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