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Seattle Mayor Murray opposes ride-share union law after it is passed

Katie Baranyuk gets out of a car driven by Dara Jenkins, a driver for the ride-sharing service Lyft, after getting a ride to downtown Seattle. The Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to collectively bargain over pay and working conditions. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Within hours of the Seattle City Council unanimously passing an ordinance allowing ride-share drivers to unionize, Mayor Ed Murray said that he opposes the legislation.

“Since my concerns were not adequately addressed in this legislation, I will not sign this bill,” Murray said.

“I said consistently during this debate that I support the right of workers to organize to create a fair and just workplace,” he said. “I remain concerned that this ordinance, as passed by the council, includes several flaws…”

Mayor Murray sent a letter to the council regarding these perceived “flaws” before the vote Monday. In it, he states his concern that costs associated regulating potential unions falls with the city, and not with those who are organizing. He also said that it is unclear in the bill how it will be determined who is a “qualified driver” for the union.

But the mayor also notes that while he will not sign the ordinance, that will not prevent the bill from becoming Seattle law.

“Under the City Charter, the ordinance will become law without my signature,” he said. “As this ordinance takes effect, my administration will begin its work to determine what it will take to implement the law. I believe it will be necessary to seek additional clarifying legislation from the council.”

Murray further said that he will work with the council on the matter in 2016.

The Seattle City Council gave unanimous approval Monday afternoon to be the first city in the nation to allow ride-share drivers the right to unionize.

“I ask all of us today to ask ourselves a question: Do we want to use the law as a shield, or do we want to use it as a sword? I say, let’s use it as a sword,” said Council Member Lorena Gonzalez.

Ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft have jumped onto the market in a relatively short period of time, dramatically changing the way people get around town. By using a smartphone app, users can order up a car to take them to their destination. Payment is taken care of all through the phone.

Drivers are people who use their own cars, and often are providing rides in their free time to earn extra cash. But the range of drivers is wide – while some drive as a side gig, others use Uber or Lyft as their main source of income.

The ordinance passed by the council on Monday afternoon allows drivers completing a certain number of rides per month to elect representatives and join a driver representative organization. That organization would help negotiate pay and working conditions.

“The intent of this legislation is, frankly, to create a regulatory environment where innovation can continue to happen, but not at the expense of the workers…to the benefit of the workers,” said Council Member Mike O’Brien.

Joshua Koritz with Seattle-based Socialist Alternative told the council that Uber drivers need help “protecting their rights against their obvious employers in a company that has continued to attack them, decrease their percentages and decertify them when they feel they can.”

While the majority of public voices in the council chambers were in support of the pro-union ordinance, not all were for it.

“I am with the for hires. We are the majority of people who do it for a living. We work fairly,” said Mohamed Ali through an interpreter. “We did not know anything about (this ordinance), we want to know about it, and we want to push it back.”

Ali said that he is among the local Somali population and was unaware of the council’s consideration to allow unionization.

“We request that you don’t vote today and give us a chance,” he said.

Another man in the chambers also noted that the times the council discussed the ride-share union ordinance were during Muslim prayer time, and therefore that population of drivers has been left out of the discussion.

Upon passing the measure, the council also acknowledged that there may be legal challenges to the decision, but noted the city is prepared to defend it in court. Officials with Uber have spoken against the move to unionize its drivers, arguing that the drivers are contractors, not employees.

CBS reports that Uber and Lyft responded to Seattle’s move by saying there is no need for a labor union. Uber has about 10,000 drivers in the Seattle area, and 400,000 nationwide. In a statement, Uber told CBS that its company is about letting drivers be independent with flexible hours, and that half of its drivers are on the road less than 10 hours a week. Lyft said that its drivers get flexibility so they can make money in their free time, which translates to a good deal for riders.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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