The city has released rules for its Uber-driver unionization ordinance, including a rule setting out which drivers will have a say in whether to opt for collective bargaining — and which won’t.

Share story

Seattle released proposed rules Wednesday for its Uber-driver unionization ordinance, including one setting out which drivers will have a say in whether to unionize.

Uber and the union that pushed for the ordinance are each slamming the rule.

When the City Council passed the ordinance last December — giving independent-contractor drivers the right to opt for collective bargaining with taxi companies, for-hire vehicle companies and app-based dispatch companies such as Uber and Lyft — it left rule-making up to Seattle’s Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) department.

The ordinance went into effect in January 2016 with a waiting period before unionization efforts can begin. In September, after FAS officials requested more time to work on the rules, the council extended the end of that waiting period to January 2017.

The rule laying out which drivers will have a say in unionizing has generated the most debate. Uber, Lyft and some drivers have said every driver should get a vote because every driver will be covered by any contracts reached through bargaining.

Teamsters Local 117 and other drivers have pushed for stricter criteria, saying people making a living primarily by driving should control their own circumstances.

The assumption has been that full-time drivers are more likely to support unionization and part-time drivers are less so.

Where has FAS landed? The department’s proposed rule would give a say only to drivers who have been with a company for the past 90 days and who have made at least 52 trips to or from Seattle during any three-month period in the past 12 months.

The rule isn’t exactly what Uber and Lyft wanted. Lyft spokesman Adrian Durbin said Wednesday the proposed rule would disenfranchise some drivers.

“Every driver that would be covered by a union agreement should have the right to vote on it,” Durbin said, calling the rule unfair and undemocratic.

Uber’s Pacific Northwest general manager, Brooke Steger, also criticized the rule.

“The city’s draft rules give a minority of drivers the ability to make decisions that could jeopardize work opportunities for thousands of Seattleites. Denying so many Uber drivers a vote effectively silences their voices and gives an entrenched special interest group undue power over the entire driver community,” Steger said.

But the rule isn’t even close to what the other side wanted. Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who worked with Local 117 on the first-in-the-nation ordinance, initially suggested giving a say only to drivers with 150 completed trips in the past 30 days.

O’Brien removed that condition before the council’s vote, kicking the decision over to FAS, which answers to Mayor Ed Murray.

“While there are thousands of people who have downloaded the Uber app, probably 80 percent of the trips are done by 20 percent of the drivers, and the council’s intention was to empower those drivers and their working conditions,” said Dawn Gearhart, Local 117’s business representative.

“Full-time drivers do 20 to 30 trips a day. So 52 trips in three months is not a significant amount of work.”

Other rules released Wednesday deal with the unionization process laid out by the ordinance. Organizations that want to bargain on behalf of drivers working with a particular taxi, for-hire or app-based dispatch company will need to solicit signed statements of interest from a majority of the drivers who are allowed to have a say.

Murray refused to sign the ordinance last year, citing concerns about legal and administrative costs and about the council leaving so many decisions up to FAS.

“Though I continue to have reservations around the legislation that created this process, I believe in the drivers’ right to improve their working lives through collective bargaining,” he said Wednesday. “I have fulfilled the executive’s responsibility to get the process started by developing these rules. However, I welcome council’s review.”

Local 117 didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

FAS will hold a hearing to gather public comment on the proposed rules from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 6 in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at City Hall.