Uber Sues Seattle Over Driver Unionization Ordinance

Jan 18, 2017

Ride-hailing company Uber is suing Seattle to block the city's new driver unionization law.

The ordinance passed by the City Council allows taxi drivers and drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft to join a union.  The city has spent the past year writing the rules for how that happens. 

Those rules went into effect Tuesday, the same day Uber filed the lawsuit in King County Superior Court.

In the suit, the company claims the city's rule-making process was "arbitrary" and "capricious." It's asking the court to suspend implementation of the law so the city can redo that process.

Seattle's collective bargaining ordinance is the first of its kind in the country. Seattle University law professor Charlotte Garden said that puts the city on the cutting edge.

"I think some of the ride-share companies want to make sure the experiment ends in Seattle as well," Garden said. "So they're taking every step they can to try and derail the ordinance and prevent it from taking effect."

The main controversy has been determining which drivers can participate in a union vote.  

The for-hire companies have largely advocated for every driver to have a vote. But union supporters argue that full-time drivers who rely on the platforms for most of their income should have more say than an occasional driver.

Uber claims drivers and the public were not given enough "meaningful opportunity to comment," and takes issues with the driver surveys that the city conducted, according to the filing. 

Unlike a previous lawsuit filed shortly after the law was passed, Uber isn't challenging the legality of the ordinance itself. That kind of challenge is also coming down the line, Garden said.

"But in the meantime, this lawsuit is about the rule-making process," she said. "So in a sense, a big chunk of the lawsuit is just about asking the city to sort of do it over."

In August, a district court judge threw out a lawsuit from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that claimed Seattle's ordinance runs counter to federal labor laws about independent contractors. The judge said the challenge was premature.