Pro- and anti-union drivers pack into a hearing on union voting rules. Photo by Casey Jaywork.

Uber Is Still Fighting Unionization

City bureaucrats are deciding how much you have to drive before you get a union vote.

Seattle has already passed legislation to allow Uber etc. drivers to unionize, but it doesn’t specify who gets to vote on that decision. As city bureaucrats deliberate that question, pro- and anti-union factions continue to organize.

Last month the city released draft rules that settled somewhere between those two extremes. As we reported at the time, “At first blush, the city rules seem to come down on Uber and Lyft’s side of the debate. The draft rules propose that any driver who has made 52 trips over 90 days should qualify to vote. Were someone to only drive for Uber on weekends, they’d have to complete about four trips per weekend to hit the 52 trip figure.” But Uber said the draft rules were still too restrictive and would disenfranchise the majority of its drivers.

“The union doesn’t want to give us a vote,” cried Uber driver Charles Jenkins yesterday at a public hearing on the rules. “They want union dues and money in their pocket. They don’t care about the drivers.” When he finished speaking, the audience both applauded and booed. A handful of people shouted, “Liar!” until shushed by city staff.

Jenkins was one of about 200 commenters at that hearing. Most but not all spoke in opposition to unionization, describing themselves as independent business owners and warning that a union would limit their autonomy. On the other side, pro-union drivers say that Uber exploits its hardest working drivers and tries to externalize costs onto employees by categorizing them as independent contractors. At past hearings, pro-union drivers have often dominated.

Who should get to vote? Should it be anyone who’s downloaded the app, or just full-time drivers? Both sides have a vested interest in the answer. Union activists want to limit the vote to drivers who depend on Uber etc. as their main job, because they’re the group that stands to benefit the most from the stability and protection a union offers. On the other hand, Uber favors part-time drivers’ votes, because they’re incentivized to vote for short-term benefits like unreliable/flexible scheduling, which is a key feature of Uber’s gig economy business model. In short, this is a conflict not only between business and unions, but also between different groups of workers: the many who drive a little, versus the few who drive a lot.

The legislation requires the voting rules to be ready by Jan. 17, 2017.

More in News & Comment

Protestors gather at SeaTac’s Families Belong Together rally. Photo by Alex Garland
Seattle’s Separated Children

A local non-profit houses several immigrant youths who were separated from their parents at the border. But for how long?

While King County Metro has been testing out several trial electric buses since since 2016, the agency aims to have a fully electric bus fleet by 2040. Photo by SounderBruce/Flickr
King County Rolls on With Its Electric Bus Fleet Plans

With an overhaul set by 2040, a new report shows the economic and health benefits of going electric.

Nikkita Oliver speaks at a July 17 No New Youth Jail press conference in front of the construction site of the King County Youth Detention Center. Photo by Josh Kelety
King County Youth Detention Center Moves Forward Despite Opposition

As community criticism of the project mounts, King County tries to take a middle road.

Trouble in Tacoma

A cannabis producer has been shut down for “numerous and substantial violations.”

Between Seattle’s $15 minimum wage and the new no-poach cause agreement, Washington has been leading the nation in advancing fast food workers’ rights. Photo by Fibonacci Blue/Flickr
Washington AG’s Deal Grants Mobility to Fast Food Workers Nationwide

Seven fast food chains have agreed to end no-poaching policies that economists say cause wage stagnation.

The Carlton Complex wildfire burned in north-central Washington state in 2014. Photo by Jason Kriess/Wikimedia Commons
King County Burn Ban Starts This Weekend

Other counties across the state have already enacted similar restrictions.

Numerous complaints against King County Sheriff’s deputies for issues like excessive force and improper search and seizure weren’t investigated due to internal misclassification, a new report says. Photo by Oran Viriyincy/Flickr
Report Finds Complaints Against King County Sheriff’s Deputies Weren’t Investigated

An outside review says that allegations of excessive force and racially-biased policing weren’t pursued.

Last spring, Sarah Smith (second from left) travelled to Tennessee to meet with other Brand New Congress candidates including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (right). Photo courtesy Brand New Congress
Can Sarah Smith Be Seattle’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

The 30-year-old democratic socialist is challenging a long-serving incumbent in Washington’s 9th Congressional District.

Most Read