Seattle voting on bill to let Uber drivers unionize

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Seattle's city council is voting Monday, December 14, 2015 on a proposal that would allow Uber drivers to unionize. The proposal would apply to all taxi drivers in Seattle, including for-hire cabs, taxi companies and app-based on-demand firms, such as Uber and Lyft.

Seattle’s city council is voting Monday on a proposal that would allow Uber drivers to unionize.

The proposal would apply to all taxi drivers in Seattle, including for-hire cabs, taxi companies and app-based on-demand firms, such as Uber and Lyft.

Companies like Uber typically classify their drivers as independent contractors. That allows the companies to avoid paying their drivers benefits like overtime and health insurance.

As a result, Councilmember Mike O’Brien noted that many taxi drivers earn below minimum wage, and they have a difficult time making their voices heard when lodging complaints with their companies.

“A business model that controls all aspects of these drivers’ work but relies on the drivers being classified as independent contractors undermines Seattle’s efforts to address income inequality and create opportunities for all workers in this city to earn a living wage,” O’Brien said in a blog post.

The bill states that it will “better ensure that [drivers] can perform their services in a safe, reliable, stable, cost-effective and economically viable manner.” It already has support from the local Teamsters union, which is working with the App-Based Drivers Association to represent hundreds of Uber and other drivers in the Seattle area.

“As a cab driver, making a living has become really hard,” said Aamar Kahn,” a Seattle-based taxi driver, on a Teamsters blog supporting the bill. “All we are asking for is a level playing field and that can’t happen until drivers have a right to speak up.”

A spokesman from Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Uber has been plagued by labor issues recently, facing driver protests, bans by local governments, a class-action lawsuit brought by drivers and a ruling by the California Labor Commissioner that said a former driver should have been classified as an employee.

The city council vote will take place during a meeting that begins at 2 p.m. PT.

Even if the proposal passes, it’s unclear what impact it would have. Uber would undoubtedly challenge the law in court, arguing that collective bargaining among independent contractors could be considered price-fixing under federal antitrust law.

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