The move is part of an effort by some council members to ensure what they say is fair compensation among drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride services.
Drivers for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft would not be able to negotiate their pay under legislation that is headed to the Seattle City Council that would remove a key component of a historic collective-bargaining law that’s tied up in court.
Members of the council’s Governance, Equity and Technology Committee voted this week to strip language about pay from an ordinance the city passed in 2015 that allowed drivers the right to bargain collectively.
The city preserved other benefits drivers could negotiate, such as equipment standards, safe driving practices and working conditions, but removed the payment clause.
The vote is part of an effort by some council members to open the door to other actions that would ensure what they say is fair compensation for ride-services drivers.
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The ride-hailing companies, and drivers aligned with them, want the entire ordinance repealed.
Three years ago, Seattle became the first major U.S. city to establish a framework that would allow for-hire drivers to unionize and bargain for agreements on issues such as pay and working conditions. The ordinance went into effect in 2016, with a waiting period before unionization was allowed.
But two lawsuits have put the effort on hold. About a dozen Uber and Lyft drivers in Seattle sued, saying the law violated their rights to free speech and association. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also sued, arguing that drivers, as independent contractors and not employees, don’t have the right to unionize.
With the 2015 ordinance tied up in court, the removal of the payment clause “sensibly allows council to look at all options on the table regarding driver compensation without any additional litigation delays,” Council President Bruce Harrell said in a statement to The Seattle Times.
Earlier this year, the City Council passed a resolution that directs members to “consider legislation to establish a set of minimum charges across all segments of the for-hire transportation industry.” It says options could include a minimum base fare rate of $2.40.
The city sets a mileage rate for taxis at $2.70 a mile.
“The intended goal is compensation of drivers to make sure they’re making a workable livable living wage,” Harrell said in the fall.
But the rider-hailing companies, also known as transportation network companies (TNCs), oppose a minimum fare set by the city.
Uber told its customers that such an action would double rates and “make the service unaffordable for many riders, and reduce the number of trips that thousands of drivers rely on for income.”
The city is trying to strike a deal to get access to TNC data that would help it understand how much drivers actually earn.
The companies, however, have resisted providing such information.
Behind the scenes, Harrell has been working with the TNCs to find a secure third-party vendor, such as the University of Washington, that could collect data related to earnings and wouldn’t compromise drivers’ privacy or reveal competitive secrets.
Meanwhile, Uber again blasted the City Council following this week’s committee vote.
“We maintain that any new TNC policy should be grounded in facts and broad-based feedback, not pushed through council without input from drivers, riders or the companies impacted,” said Uber spokesperson Nathan Hambley.
Lyft also criticized the amendment.
The bill “would undermine the flexibility of drivers to choose when, where and for how long they drive — the very things that make Lyft so attractive to drivers and useful for passengers,” said Lyft spokeswoman Lauren Alexander.
Matthew Wald, the executive director of Drive Forward Seattle, a group of 2,000 drivers opposed to unionization, said the council’s revision “solves nothing.”
“The Seattle City Council is trying to save a deeply flawed ordinance that drivers didn’t want in the first place with a fix that nobody wants now,” he said.
Wald said many drivers work part-time to supplement their income and like the freedom and flexibility their status affords. He said many also don’t want to pay membership dues to an organization negotiating on their behalf.
The legislation is expected to go before the full council in January.
Correction: In the 19th paragraph, the word “communities” in the quote by Uber spokesperson Nathan Hambley has been changed to “companies,” to correct an error in transcription.