Uber Publishes Core Principles to Guide Seattle’s Union Election Procedures

Uber maintains that Seattle’s recent ordinance that extends collective bargaining privileges to ridesharing drivers is illegal. However, to cover its bases, Uber issued a letter to direct the Seattle Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) on how to go about its rulemaking responsibilities.

In December 2015, Seattle became the first city to allow Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize. Most cities have avoided such laws because of the potential legal costs of defending the legislation. Legal experts argue that the law violates the National Labor Relations Act, which expressly excludes independent contractors from collective bargaining privileges. Others believe it would constitute an illegal price-fixing scheme that violates antitrust laws.

Due to the impending legal costs, progressive Seattle Mayor Ed Murray did not even support or sign the ordinance. Yet, the City Council went ahead anyways and passed the first-of-its-kind ordinance into law.

One major flaw of the legislation, outside of it most likely being illegal, is that much of the law’s enforcement and administration is unknown and left to the discretion of the director of FAS.

Therefore, Uber sent a letter stating four core principles to the Director to ensure that “its rules allow all drivers to make an informed choice about representation”:

  1. Every affected driver should have the right to vote;
  2. Every affected driver should be fully informed before voting;
  3. Every vote should be fairly counted; and
  4. FAS should look to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules and case law.

Every affected driver should have the right to vote: The law allows the director of FAS to decide which drivers get to vote for the exclusive representative, or union. Since the union would represent and speak for all drivers, it only makes sense that all drivers get a vote in who represents them. This is important because in the private-sector less than 10 percent of workers voted for the union that represents them. The FAS director should also call for recertification elections on an annual basis to ensure the workforce still supports union representation since new drivers are signing up all the time.

Every affected driver should be fully informed before voting: A problem in most private-sector organizing campaigns, unions only tell workers of the benefits of a union and none of the downsides. As Uber’s letter states, drivers should be made aware of the costs of dues payments, content of the union’s bylaws and “be guaranteed the ability to participate in the governance of the EDR to ensure that it reflects the drivers concerns and not merely the EDR’s.”

Making drivers aware of the costs of dues payments will make it easier to determine if a union is right for them. Dues can be expensive. According to the Teamsters Local 853 website, “One time initiation fee and monthly dues differ depending on the type of Employer and your particular wage rate. Initiation fees are from $75 to $600, and dues range from $17 to $85. Monthly union dues are generally two and a half times your hourly wage rate.”  

Union bylaws and constitutions also have provisions that drivers should be aware of. Many union constitutions contain provisions that punish workers who seek to get rid of their union, including steep fines and even termination of employment. Drivers should know if they end up unsatisfied with their union representation, they could be fired or fined for trying to get rid of it.

Every vote should be fairly counted: As I noted in a previous article, “The bill [now law] would create an election process that circumvents secret-ballot elections and instead enables unions to become certified as workers' monopoly bargaining representative based on signed authorization cards.

“This system, known as card-check, facilitates intimidation and harassment of employees by union organizers.”

As Uber’s letter points out, with card-check elections it is important that “FAS should ensure that statements of interest submitted by drivers are valid and verified.” Further, FAS should levy severe penalties on unions that coerce, intimidate or deceive drivers into signing an authorization cards in favor of a union.

FAS should look to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules and case: This point is the only one that the FAS director should not take to heart. Under the Obama administration, the NLRB has overhauled union election procedures in a way that tilts the playing field in favor of unions that does not benefit workers. For example, under NLRB’s new union election rules and the Seattle ordinance, worker privacy is at risk. Ridesharing companies will be required to hand over drivers’ personal information like phone number and home and email addresses to all unions attempting to organize the drivers. If the director seeks to emulate NLRB procedures, he should look to past and less partisan Boards.

See past commentary on unionizing ride-sharing drivers here and here.