Judge puts hold on Seattle's Uber unionization effort

Judge puts hold on Seattle's Uber unionization effort

A driver for Uber Technologies Inc., arrives at an authorized customer pick up area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, in Seattle. A federal judge in Seattle on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, temporarily blocked the city's first-in-the-nation law allowing drivers of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft to unionize over pay and working conditions

SAN FRANCISCO — A Seattle judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked the first law in the nation that would have given Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers the right to unionize.

The law was originally passed in 2015 but had been challenged by two lawsuits.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik's temporary restraining order was in response to a request by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed last month. It argued the Seattle law classified drivers as employees when they were actually independent contractors and thus not eligible to unionize and collectively bargain over wages and working conditions.

The Teamsters Union is seeking to unionize the workers. It has demanded that Uber and Lyft turn over lists of drivers who meet the criteria set by the Seattle law, that they have driven at least 52 times in a three-month period in the proceeding year before Oct. 19, 2016.

The case has been closely watched nationwide as it represents an important front in the on-going and uneven battle between gig economy workers trying to gain more employee-like benefits while companies seek to have them definitively classified as contract workers. If the workers win, it could mean that the business model Uber and Lyft have built up will no longer be viable.

The U.S. Chamber filing argued that requiring Lyft, Uber and taxi companies turn over lists of drivers involved confidential and trade secret information.

The issues in the case are complex and far-reaching, potentially destroying the business model upon which Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing businesses are based. Because of that complexity, Lasnik wrote, “The public will be well-served by maintaining the status quo while the issues are given careful judicial consideration as to whether the city’s well-meaning ordinance can survive the scrutiny our laws require.”

The temporary injunction should by no means be seen as an indicator of which way the case will ultimately be decided, Lasnik wrote.

Lyft was pleased the court ruled that what it called Seattle’s “experimental law” wouldn’t be implemented until issues raised by drivers are heard.

“The ordinance is a poorly drafted law that could 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 Adrian Durbin, Lyft’s director of communications.

Uber looks "forward to the court’s full consideration of the many serious legal questions about this ordinance as the lawsuit moves forward,” said Brooke Steger, general manager for the company in the Pacific Northwest.



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