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Washington state court upholds law allowing unionization of app-based and for-hire drivers

[JURIST] King County Superior Court [official website] Judge Beth Andrus upheld a Seattle city ordinance on Friday allowing app-based and ride-hailing drivers to vote to unionize. Specifically, the ordinance [text, PDF] allows individuals making at least 52 trips in a three-month period—called "driver representatives"—to vote on whether or not they should be able to unionize. Uber [corporate website] has previously challenged this ordinance claiming that the 52-trip requirement impinges on the rights of new and part-time drivers to vote on unionization. Uber also reached out to its drivers to persuade them not to vote for unionization. This decision, to the detriment of companies like Uber and Lyft [corporate website], would enable drivers to argue for higher wages and labor costs [Bloomberg report]. Uber stated that "[t]he city's collective bargaining ordinance rules deny thousands of Seattle drivers a voice and a vote on their future" and that the city failed to give the public "a meaningful opportunity to comment" on the proposed rule.

With the rapid growth of companies like Lyft and Uber, ride-sharing services have been among the most controversial business models [JURIST backgrounder] in recent history. On Thursday a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] approved a $27 million settlement [JURIST report] in a class action lawsuit between Lyft and its drivers. The suit challenged Lyft's characterization of the drivers as independent contractors. In December the European wing of Uber was indicted [JURIST report] in Denmark on charges of assisting drivers in their violation of taxi laws, although Copenhagen prosecutor Vibeke Thorkil-Jensen stated that this is just a test case seeking judicial assessment of Uber's involvement in the illegal acts of two of its drivers. Last April Uber settled a lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by 385,000 drivers in California and Massachusetts regarding their status as independent contractors. In several states, ride-sharing companies have met significant legal opposition, frequently led by competitors such as the taxi industry. Other unresolved questions [JURIST backgrounder] surrounding this new business model continue to prompt debate among lawmakers.

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