Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien has hung up his kayak—the one he uses to protest authorized oil rigs in Elliot Bay—for the summer and has taken up his latest completely worthless and meaningless cause. Next week, the far, far left city councilmember will introduce legislation that would allow independent contractors drivers, such as Uber drivers, to unionize.
According to the Seattle Times, O’Brien’s legislation “would give taxi drivers, for-hire drivers and drivers for app-based transportation-network companies such as Uber and Lyft the right to collectively bargain with those companies — like union members who, as employees, have bargaining rights under federal law.” The legislation would specifically apply to drivers. However, “its enactment likely would carry implications for independent contractors in other sectors of the growing ‘gig economy.’”
Seattle would be the first city in the nation to require companies to bargain with contractors. The legislation may also “set a precedent with the potential to impact more traditional businesses that rely heavily on contract workers, such as Microsoft.”
O’Brien is justifying his pandering to special interests by accusing companies like Uber of being more “exploitative than Wal-Mart”—the far-left’s favorite big bad corporate boogie-man. The problem, he explains, is that independent contactors are not classified as employees and “therefore aren’t guaranteed bargaining rights.” The Seattle Times,
“O’Brien’s legislation, which he hopes the council will pass next month, would set the stage for drivers to choose, by majority vote, a nonprofit organization to serve as their representative in negotiating with a company, he said.
“Such organizations would need to be certified by the city and would receive driver lists from the city in order to organize.
“Breakdowns in bargaining would lead to required arbitration, and the resulting contracts would be enforced by the courts rather than the National Labor Relations Board, which rules on conventional union-employer disputes.
“The city would enforce the legislation by fining companies for noncompliance or by revoking their licenses to operate in Seattle, O’Brien said.”
O’Brien has been working with—surprise, surprise—Teamsters Local 117 to develop the scheme. Bracing for an inevitable intense legal fight, O’Brien insists that the law would withstand a court challenge. Of course, his reasoning doesn’t quite add up to, well, reality. The Seattle Times,
“The NLRA puts the federal government, not city and state governments, in charge of regulating collective-bargaining rights and union organizing for most employees.
“San Francisco lawyer Stephen Hirschfeld, CEO of the Employment Law Alliance, said he can’t see the courts allowing O’Brien’s legislation to stand.
“‘Federal law is supposed to govern,’ he said, warning that the alternative would open ‘a massive Pandora’s box.’ …
“Garden said the legislation might violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which forbids collusion between contractors except in certain circumstances.”
O’Brien’s legislation would not be the first time members of the Seattle City Council attacked the ride-sharing industry. The council spent a better part of a year debating the “best way to regulate services like Lyft, Sidecar and Uber, which the city has dubbed Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs.” All that debating resulted in an expected vote to place strict regulations on Seattle’s ride-share industry in early 2014. The regulations “limited the number of drivers allowed to use each of Seattle’s ride-sharing services at any one time to 150,” among other limitations.
The regulations were the council’s attempt to accommodate special interests—particularly Seattle’s taxi monopoly—at the expense of innovative transportation services. Lyft and Uber did not take the attack sitting down. The two companies launched a campaign for a ballot referendum that would have allowed voters to decide on whether to keep or throw-out the regulations. The referendum garnered enough signatures, automatically suspending the regulations until a vote could take place.
Eventually, due to backlash, the council voted to repeal regulations they previously placed on the ride-share industry and opted for a compromise Seattle Mayor Ed Murray was forced to broker between the ride-share industry and Seattle’s taxi monopoly.
O’Brien’s latest assault on the ride-sharing industry, once again, places an urban debate center-stage. Across the country, ride-share companies operating in Democrat-controlled cities face similar opposition to innovation and deference to unions. And, interestingly enough, it’s a tension that threatens to loosen the left’s urban grasp. Reuters explains,
“Democrats are facing a tough choice. A big part of their base is the unions now facing off against such disruptive innovations as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and charter schools. Do Democrats support the regulations pushed by taxi and other unions that help to protect the status quo but can also stifle competition? Or do they embrace innovative technologies and businesses that expand transportation options, create jobs and are increasingly welcomed by another key Democratic constituency: urban dwellers, particularly young urban dwellers? …
“Politically, this presents an opportunity for Republicans to make a comeback in cities. By championing the often disruptive share-economy businesses, defending them against the status quo and focusing their political campaigns on these issues, the GOP can show it is the party that embraces companies that improve the quality of life in cities.”
Democrats in Seattle—as indicated by O’Brien—will likely continue to side with special interests. By doing so, Democrats will prove they are more than willing to implement stifling regulations that hurt innovation—and key segments of their base—in order to benefit the unions that heavily fund their campaigns