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Uber and Lyft drivers are one step closer to forming their first union

by Noah Kulwin
Aug 2 2017, 12:36pm

Uber and Lyft drivers aren’t yet allowed to unionize in Seattle, but a judge’s ruling on Tuesday brought them one step closer to their destination.

Judge Robert Lasnik dismissed a lawsuit from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Uber that aimed to strike down a Seattle law that grants independently contracted Uber and Lyft drivers the right to unionize. City attorneys argued that the ordinance, which was first passed in 2015, is meant to improve employee welfare as well as safety and reliability standards.

“The Ordinance, while an admittedly novel approach to achieving the specified purposes,” falls within the city’s regulatory authority, Lasnik said in his decision. “To the extent plaintiffs are arguing that the City’s regulation is substantively defective because it exceeds the scope of the delegated authority, the argument fails as a matter of fact.”

The law, which remains on hold per an earlier ruling from Lasnik, still faces other legal challenges. There’s a separate lawsuit from the National Right to Work Foundation, and Uber said in a statement to the Seattle Times that it plans to appeal the Tuesday ruling.

Uber has invested substantial time and energy into pushing back the Seattle unionization effort, which is being organized by the Teamsters Local 117. The company has held meetings, run in-app and TV advertisements, launched a phone call blitz, and even released 18 podcast episodes as part of its months-long effort to dissuade drivers from pursuing a union.

Across the country, the troubled ride-hailing giant has been roiled by a series of scandals involving both its corporate culture and its treatment of drivers over the past couple years; the company has been without a CEO since late June. Uber acknowledged in May that it systematically underpaid drivers in New York for over two years, and it has since embarked on a campaign called “180 Days of Change” in an effort to repair its relationship with its drivers, many of whom say they are mistreated by the company.

Driver churn — the number of people who sign up and then stop driving for Uber after a short time — is a key concern for the company, which is attempting to carve a path to profitability. Only 4 percent of people who sign up to drive for Uber are still doing it a year later, according to an April report from the Information. Uber did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.