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Seattle lawmakers side with Uber, taxi drivers

The Seattle City Council took the first swing at the nation's ballooning freelance "gig" economy, approving a measure that would give app-based drivers and others in the jurisdiction the ability to collectively bargain over their wages and working conditions.

Drivers stood up and were counted in Seattle fight.

Under the proposal, drivers would have the ability to come together to choose a nonprofit organization to represent them. Once authorized, the organization could engage in collective bargaining on the drivers’ behalf. The new law would apply to all taxi drivers, for-hire drivers and drivers for app-based dispatch companies, such as Uber and Lyft.

Drivers and community supporters celebrated the bill’s passage, calling it a turning point toward greater protections for workers in a changing economic landscape. Peter Kuel, an Uber driver and member of the leadership council of the App-Based Drivers Association, said:

Since I started driving for Uber, Uber has cut our pay without notice, terminated drivers without giving a reason and blocked our efforts to improve our working conditions. We’re looking for fairness and the ability to earn a living wage. 

Seattle app-based drivers as well as traditional taxi drivers are already aligned with Teamsters Local 117.Taxi drivers formed the Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association in 2012. In 2013, drivers for app-based dispatch companies formed the App-Based Drivers Association.

Because of their disputed status as independent contractors, however, for-hire drivers don't have the ability to unionize through a traditional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process, and they aren't covered under Seattle's wage theft, sick leave or new $15 an hour minimum wage law.

John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 117, is hopeful the legislation -- if signed by the mayor -- will go a long way towards making things more fair:

All workers, no matter where they work or the nature of their work, deserve the opportunity to have a voice. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies the right of workers to bargain collectively as a fundamental human right. Now these workers have that right.

Figuring out the future of organizing as the gig economy continues to grow in the U.S. is a major challenge for workers. The Teamsters' victory earlier this year in the "Browning-Ferris" case decided by the NLRB was seen by many as an opportunity to expand union representation among millions of workers nationwide who previously were misclassified as independent contractors.

Legal challenges to the NLRB ruling have already been filed and are expected if the Seattle measure becomes law. But these rulings are just more proof that when workers are Teamster Strong, America is Stronger!

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