Seattle Law Allowing Uber, Lyft Drivers to Unionize Is Blocked

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By Jon Steingart

A Seattle ordinance that lets drivers for ride-hail services like Uber and Lyft unionize will remain on hold while the companies appeal a judge’s ruling against their challenge to the law, the Ninth Circuit ordered ( Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. City of Seattle , 9th Cir., No. 17-35640, 8/29/17 ).

The companies don’t have to turn over drivers’ names and contact information to International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 117, which qualified under the law for an opportunity to organize drivers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said Aug. 29. The ride-hail companies faced an Aug. 30 deadline to provide the information, but the court’s order enjoins the disclosure requirement.

The Seattle ordinance, enacted in 2015, is the first of its kind in the country to extend organizing rights to drivers classified as independent contractors. It requires a company to negotiate with an exclusive representative chosen by its drivers. Federal labor law excludes independent contractors from coverage.

“The Court’s temporary ruling does not speak to the merits of the Chamber’s claim and allows for orderly briefing in this case,” Kimberly Mills, a spokeswoman for the Seattle city attorney’s office, told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 29 email. “The City will file a brief next week and looks forward to defending this publicly important law on appeal.”

A Chamber spokeswoman declined to comment Aug. 29.

Ninth Circuit Judges Michael Daly Hawkins and N. Randy Smith wrote the Aug. 29 order.

Separate Appeals in Separate Cases

A lower court judge Aug. 1 ruled against a challenge to the Seattle law filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on behalf of members Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc., and a smaller ride-hail company called Eastside for Hire Inc. Judge Robert Lasnik of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington Aug. 24 dismissed a separate challenge filed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. In his order, Lasnik lifted an injunction blocking enforcement of the ordinance.

The Chamber and the Foundation appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Lasnik rejected the Chamber motion to enjoin the ordinance while its case is on appeal, but the Ninth Circuit granted the motion “temporarily, to give the court an opportunity to consider the emergency motion.”

The city’s response to the Chamber’s emergency motion is due Sept. 5.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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