Giving Drivers a Voice

Council Unanimously Adopts First-of-its-Kind Legislation to Give Drivers a Voice on the Job

Read the Press Release

12/14/2015 @ 3:25 PM
For Immediate Release

Seattle City Council unanimously adopted legislation today that will give eligible drivers at taxi, for-hire, and transportation network companies ("TNCs", e.g., Uber, Lyft) a voice on the job and the opportunity to negotiate for improved working conditions at their companies.  The bill, co-sponsored by Councilmember Mike O'Brien and Councilmember Nick Licata, will create a process whereby a majority of independently contracted drivers working for the same company could choose to join a Driver Representative Organization to negotiate the pay rates and conditions of their employment.

"We've heard from Seattle drivers making sub-minimum wage, and companies like Uber have turned a deaf ear to their concerns. This bill was only introduced out of necessity after witnessing how little power drivers themselves had in working for a living wage," said Councilmember Mike O'Brien. "This is groundbreaking legislation and I am proud Seattle is continuing to lead the nation in advancing labor standards for our workers."

These drivers are considered independent contractors and, as such, are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act that provides for collective bargaining between employers and unions representing employees. Independent contractors are also excluded from a host of labor standards other workers have, such as minimum wage and hour laws, health and safety standards on the job, or reimbursements for workplace related costs. Over the past few years, Seattle has implemented ordinances to raise local labor standards that these drivers are exempt from, including the new minimum wage, paid sick and safe leave, wage theft, and fair chance employment. This legislation gives drivers a chance to address these issues in their industry.

In addition to setting the framework which provides a majority of drivers the option to join a Driver Representative organization, the legislation also establishes penalties for failure to comply with the new framework, including interest arbitration and the possibility of fines.

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What does this bill do?

This innovative bill would give drivers who are paid to give rides to passengers the opportunity to have a voice on the job with their employer by coming together to collectively negotiate over their pay and working conditions. This bill would apply to all drivers who are paid to give rides to customers in Seattle, whether they drive for a Taxi company, a For-Hire company, or a Transportation Network Company (app-based dispatch companies, such as Uber and Lyft). Councilmember Mike O'Brien introduced legislation on September 8th, 2015.

"Many of these drivers make below minimum wage and have no rights in their jobs."

Why is it needed?

The majority of drivers for hire come from historically disadvantaged communities. Many are new immigrants to the US and English is not their first language, making it difficult for them to find jobs, even when they have education, training, and experience in their home countries. Driving taxis, flat-rate, and TNC-endorsed vehicles is often the best path to regular work for them. Unfortunately, they are often taken advantage of by the companies that hire them or contract with them.

Many of these drivers make below minimum wage and have no rights in their jobs, and when they do raise issues they are quickly silenced or retaliated against with loss of access to the app or dispatcher that enables them to work. 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.

While the innovative new way to hail rides in Seattle is a boon to many of us who need a ride, the drivers face many challenges, particularly those drivers who depend on this work for a living and yet fail to earn even minimum wage due to reasons beyond their control. For example, app-based dispatch companies like Uber can restrict access to the app that connects drivers and passengers at any time. Companies can simply drop the minimum charge, the fare rates, or charge drivers higher commissions without any warning to drivers. Companies can offer steep temporary discounts that come out of the drivers' earnings, and yet drivers have no say in when price changes come and go.

There is currently no mechanism for drivers to address these issues with their employer directly. Independent contractors are specifically excluded from the National Labor Relations Act. As a result, conflicts in this publicly regulated transportation market have become policy fights rather than points of negotiation, as they would be in other private sector employment.

A new, more innovative approach to organizing is needed to give these drivers the opportunity to come together and use their collective voice to negotiate their earnings and working conditions with their companies.

How does it work?

  1. All drivers who have a Seattle for-hire vehicle licenses that have performed a minimum threshold of trips will be eligible for collective representation (this includes drivers who meet these criteria that work for Taxi, For-Hire, and/or Transportation Network Companies).
  2. The City of Seattle will certify organizations as eligible Driver Representative Organizations. In order to qualify, these organizations must:
    • Be registered as non-profit organizations in the State of Washington.
    • Have organization bylaws that give drivers the right to be members of the organization and participate in the democratic control of the organization.
    • Have experience in reaching consensus agreements with, or related to, employers and contractors.
  3. Driver Representative Organizations will receive a list of eligible drivers at each company from the City and have 120 days to demonstrate that a majority of drivers for a specific company choose to be represented.
  4. Once verified, the Driver Representative Organization will have the ability to engage in collective bargaining over pay and working conditions on behalf of those represented drivers.
  5. The City of Seattle will review any final collective bargaining agreements to ensure compliance with City code.

What legal authority does the City of Seattle have to implement this legislation?

Under Chapter 6.310 of the Seattle Municipal Code, the City of Seattle has "...power to license for-hire vehicles, taxicabs, for-hire drivers taxicab associations, and transportation network companies, and issue TNC vehicle endorsements, for regulations and revenue. Some of its regulatory purposes are to increase the safety, reliability, cost-effectiveness, and the economic viability and stability of privately-operated for-hire vehicle and taxicab services within The City of Seattle."

When will the legislation be considered?

The legislation was voted out of the Finance & Culture Committee on Friday, October 2 by a vote of 7-0. Full Council voted on the proposal on Monday, December 14.