The idea is simple: unions for taxi and Uber drivers. The implementation will be more complicated, so check out some questions and answers about Seattle’s groundbreaking ordinance.
But being first also means trying something new. No other city has established a framework for contract drivers to engage in collective bargaining. So how is the ordinance supposed to work?
To answer some basic questions, we scrutinized the text of the ordinance and checked with the office of Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who sponsored the legislation.
Q: Who will be in charge of overseeing the ordinance’s implementation?
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A: The director of Seattle’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) will handle that duty.
Q: What companies will be affected?
A: The ordinance will apply to companies that hire, contract with or partner with at least 50 for-hire drivers in Seattle. That will include taxi associations, for-hire vehicle companies and app-based vehicle-dispatch companies such as Uber and Lyft. It won’t affect companies dispatching drivers with cargo other than passengers. That means the ordinance won’t apply to services such as Amazon Flex and Prime Now. The city has specific authority under state law to regulate the taxi industry.
Q: What information will the companies have to hand over?
A: The ordinance will require the companies to provide the names, addresses, email addresses (if available) and phone numbers (if available) of certain drivers.
Q: Will drivers unionize across the industry or company by company?
A: Drivers will be allowed to unionize company by company. In other words, drivers for Uber might choose to unionize and drivers for Lyft might choose not to.
Q: What organizations will be allowed to represent drivers?
A: The FAS director will determine what qualifications the organizations must meet. The ordinance says the director should consider whether an organization is a nonprofit, whether it has bylaws allowing drivers to control it democratically and whether it has experience negotiating labor agreements. That’s typically how unions are set up.
Q: How will drivers decide whether they want an organization as their representative?
A: The organizations seeking to represent drivers will need to submit to the FAS director statements of interest from a majority of a company’s qualifying drivers — cards signed by the drivers. In other words, the method will be card-check, not election.
Q: Which drivers will be qualified to take part in selecting or rejecting an organization?
A: Not all of them. Under an earlier version of O’Brien’s proposal, only drivers with at least 150 completed trips in the previous 30 days were qualified to take part in the decision about whether to unionize. That condition was removed before Monday’s vote, and the ordinance says the director of FAS will determine which drivers will be qualified. But it says the director should consider the length, frequency and number of rides provided by drivers, how many hours they work and where. Drivers who work very infrequently will likely not qualify.
Q: Would those drivers still be covered by the labor agreements?
A: Yes, all drivers would be.
Q: What will happen if drivers reject an organization seeking to unionize them?
A: The rejected organization and other organizations will be allowed to try again but not immediately and not with the same company more than once in a calendar year.
Q: What would happen if a company’s drivers select an organization to represent them?
A: The ordinance will require the company to seek an agreement with the representative organization on issues such as equipment standards, safe-driving practices, background checks, pay, minimum hours of work and conditions of work.
Q: What would happen if a company and a representative organization can’t agree?
A: If a company and a representative organization don’t reach an agreement after 90 days of negotiating, a professional arbitrator would propose an agreement. Appeals of agreements proposed by arbitrators would be heard by the FAS director. Appeals of determinations by FAS director would be filed in King County Superior Court.
Q: When will the ordinance take effect?
A: The ordinance is scheduled to take effect next month, with a waiting period before organizations would be allowed to begin trying to unionize drivers.
Q: How long will the unionization process take?
A: It will take about a year, without disputes, to get from the start of the process to an organization reaching an agreement on behalf of the drivers for a company.
Q: What would happen if opponents sue Seattle over the ordinance?
A: Seattle will likely be sued. The plaintiff would likely ask a judge to stop the city from implementing the ordinance pending a decision in the case. The plaintiff would need to persuade the judge that not doing so would cause immediate and irreparable harm.
Q: What would be the main questions in a lawsuit against the city?
A: The plaintiff likely would argue that only the federal government has the right to govern collective bargaining. The plaintiff also would likely accuse the city of violating antitrust law by allowing independent contractors to cooperate rather than compete.
Q: How much will the ordinance cost and who will pay for it?
A: The ordinance will cost an estimated $2.2 million in 2016, less in years after that, paid for with an increase in fees on tax, for-hire and app-based vehicle-dispatch companies of about 6 cents per trip.