Seattle ordinance will mean new rules for taxicab and rideshare drivers, and changes in service for commuters.
You don’t need to own a car to get around Seattle. Transit options abound, whether you go by trolley or train, boat or bus. And with the proliferation of rideshare services such as Uber, getting from here to there has never been easier.
Ahmed, an Uber driver-partner, regards every passenger as a customer service opportunity. He serves 20 or more customers in his blue Toyota Prius some days. Some want a one-mile ride. Others are in it for the long haul. He looks forward to them all.
“I love my customers, and they’re happy to see me!” he says.
Ahmed is not an Uber employee. He’s an independent contractor who partners with Uber. He owns a small business, and his Prius is his office.
Ahmed, 57, and his wife live in Renton. Their children are grown. His wife runs a home-based business. He likes that he can take time off from his work — minutes, hours, days — to help his wife when needed. He says the Uber platform makes that possible.
“Everybody, when you ask why they drive Uber, they’re going to answer ‘Because of the flexibility,’ ” he says. “I don’t want to lose that flexibility.”
Riders appreciate that flexibility, too. But new rules could hamper the way the current system works.
A Seattle ordinance on collective bargaining (passed last December) will mean new rules for taxicab and rideshare drivers for services such as Uber, and the commuters who use them.
Here are some details about the collective bargaining process, as spelled out in the ordinance:
First, unions (such as Teamsters) or non-profit organizations can apply to be a “Qualified Driver Representative” or QDR. If the QDR is approved by the city, rideshare services such as Uber will have to turn over personal contact information for all drivers so the QDR can contact each driver to solicit support for forming a union.
Next, a group of “qualified drivers” will get to vote whether they want to be represented by the union or have a non-profit represent them, or whether they want to remain independent.
Uber partner Debra says she worries about any collective bargaining agreement that would control the hours she works and in the process eliminate the scheduling flexibility that attracted her to Uber in the first place.
“I don’t have to say no to my family,” she says. “The minute they make us do shifts, I can’t do that anymore.”
Debra says she’s not opposed to unions — in fact she was a union member when she worked as a nurse and a college instructor — but that any attempt to regulate Uber would put her out of a job.
Toni, another partner, credits Uber with allowing her to work on her own terms even as she received chemotherapy treatment from June 2015 until February 2016.
She says any formal contract with the city would “effectively turn us into taxicabs” and kill the industry.
The exact requirements to be a “qualified driver” are still being negotiated, but the ordinance in its present form indicates that only drivers who meet a certain number of trips or hours over the prior four months will get a vote. That would leave many drivers out of the picture.
The upshot: Not all drivers get a vote on whether they want to be represented. If more than 50 percent of qualifying drivers vote in favor of being represented by the union, then the union would represent all drivers — even the drivers who didn’t get to vote or who voted against the union.
Maurice says he was one step away from being homeless when he heard about Uber and became a driver-partner. He says “my security is in my flexibility to run my business the way I choose to run it. With collective bargaining, I’d no longer be able to do that.”
The city is focused on drafting rules for the ordinance, such as what constitutes a “qualified driver.” Implementation of the ordinance is now slated for January 2017.
Drive Forward is a nonprofit organization created by Uber and Eastside for Hire to empower riders, drivers, and community members to raise their voice about issues affecting rideshare, for-hire, and taxi drivers, and the communities they serve.