Starting next month in Seattle, Uber and Lyft drivers who are kicked off the apps will be able to contest their deactivations and seek other support through a “resolution center” funded by the city and run by a drivers group.
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration has selected the Drivers Union, a group affiliated with Teamsters Local 117, to run the resolution center from July 1 through 2022, Durkan announced at news conference Thursday.
With $5 million in city funding, the group will provide consultation to drivers facing deactivation from ride-hailing apps and legal representation to drivers in deactivation arbitration proceedings. It will subcontract with Teamsters 117 on the work.
The group also will educate drivers about their rights, including in multiple languages. Many drivers are immigrants. The city selected the Drivers Union via a request for proposals;the group submitted the only one.
The resolution center will be the first of its kind in the country, according to the Durkan administration.
At a City Hall news conference, Drivers Union president Peter Kuel said the resolution center will be a “one-stop shop” for on-the-job issues. For years, drivers have had little recourse against unfair deactivations, which can lock them out of their livelihoods, Durkan added. Sometimes, no-fault collisions have led to deactivations, said driver Nurayne Fofana, who experienced that in 2018.
“Today is a really important milestone,” Durkan said, mentioning that gig workers suffered more than office workers during the pandemic.
“We want to come back better and stronger [from COVID-19]. We’ve got to protect the people. We’ve got to make sure our economy will flourish for everybody … This is part of our reopening. This is part of our recovery.”
The center has been planned since Durkan and the City Council approved a law in 2019 that prohibits unwarranted deactivations and provides drivers the right to contest deactivations with a neutral arbiter. The cost of hiring arbiters will be shared by the city-funded center and the app companies, according to the law.
Harry Hartfield, an Uber spokesperson, noted that multiple organizations that advocate for sexual-violence survivors raised concerns last year, warning that Seattle’s draft rules for contested deactivations related to allegations of sexual assault and harassment might not adequately protect passengers and shield survivors.
“While we support the goal of the rules, we have serious concerns that this creates a quasi-judicial process that may make it harder to keep potentially unsafe drivers off the road,” Hartfield said in statement.
Lyft spokesperson Julie Wood added: “We echo concerns raised by anti-sexual violence advocates that Seattle’s rules will roll back protections.”
Before issuing final rules this month, the city made changes that incorporated feedback from numerous groups, including advocates focused on ending gender-based violence, Durkan spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said.
“The rules explicitly address situations that implicate the safety of customers and others,” Schulkin said. “We are confident the process … provides companies the flexibility to address safety concerns while also ensuring drivers can safeguard their own right to make a living.”
The resolution center and deactivation law are part of a package of City Hall policies pushed by some drivers and Local 117 to regulate the ride-hailing app industry, which has shaken up the transportation landscape.
Durkan and the council established a 57-cent tax on Uber and Lyft rides in 2019, and they adopted a minimum-pay formula for drivers last year. The formula is meant to ensure drivers, who are classified as independent contractors, make the same minimum wage as workers classified as employees.
An earlier attempt by City Hall to provide Uber and Lyft drivers with protections didn’t pan out. The council passed a law in 2016 providing drivers the right to collective bargaining over working conditions and pay; regular employees have that right under federal law, but independent contractors don’t. An industry lawsuit against that law dragged out for years, until both sides agreed to dismiss the case last year.
On Thursday, Durkan said she believes Seattle’s new setup will become a national model in the gig economy.
“Courageous immigrant workers have led an eight-year campaign for fair pay, fair working conditions and a voice at work,” John Scearcy, secretary-treasurer of Local 117, said in a statement.