Seattle City Council passes bill to limit deactivation of app-based workers

Aug 8, 2023, 8:14 PM | Updated: Nov 7, 2023, 1:50 pm

Image: A delivery man bikes with a food bag from Grubhub on April 21, 2021, in New York....

A delivery man bikes with a food bag from Grubhub on April 21, 2021, in New York. (Photo: Mark Lennihan AP file photo)

(Photo: Mark Lennihan AP file photo)

Corrections and clarifications: A quote in a previous version of this story was incorrectly attributed to Tammie Hetrick, president and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association. The quote has been updated to reflect the correct statement.

The Seattle City Council passed legislation Tuesday that protects app-based workers who deliver food from restaurants, shop for groceries, provide personal services or take on other on-demand jobs such as pet sitting from being deactivated from their platforms.

The bill, labeled CB 120580, changes how companies such as DoorDash, GrubHub and Instacart can deactivate their gig workers as it requires “14 days notice of an impending deactivation, except in the case of egregious misconduct,” the bill reads. There are other requirements as well.

The measure was sponsored by Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Andrew J. Lewis.

“App-based work is work. It is done by human beings who deserve a stable work environment. Their livelihoods should not hinge on the decisions of an algorithm,” Herbold said in a council statement after the bill passed 6-2. “This law, the first of its kind in the nation, will protect app-based workers from arbitrary deactivation and give them meaningful recourse to appeal to a human being if they are deactivated.”

“This law protects that critical livelihood from being snatched away for arbitrary or frivolous reasons,” Lewis added.

The problem, as the Seattle City Council explained in a statement, is “Without any warning, computer algorithms with no human review have been able to ban people from their ability to get work on the apps.” From there, some workers have reported being deactivated for reasons “completely outside of their control” while others “never find out why they were deactivated at all.”

The council’s statement also referred to a new University of Washington report titled, “Deactivation with and without Representation: The Role of Dispute Arbitration for Seattle Rideshare Drivers.” Among the key findings in the report: Deactivated drivers experience severe financial and emotional harms and 80% of driver deactivations were overturned.

“Seattle workers are once again raising the bar,” Danielle Alvarado, Executive Director of Working Washington, said in a statement. “Passing this policy today means workers will have more stable livelihoods, remain housed, access medical care, and meet their basic needs.”

From 2022: Food delivery workers, ride-share drivers demand more rights

However, multiple parties spoke up Tuesday expressing vehement opposition to the bill.

“While well intended, the disclosure of this information could spur unsafe escalations or retaliation or even create a chilling effect on reporting misconduct,” Toney Anaya, DoorDash’s Global Head of Government Relations, said during the council’s public comment session Tuesday.

The bill “will change how we’re able to keep customers, retailers and shoppers safe when dealing with bad actors,” Tiffani Alvidrez, the government affairs manager for Instacart, said during the public comment section of Tuesday’s council meeting. “No other industry has a 14-day notice requirement and for good reason.”

Tammie Hetrick, president and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association, said in a statement that if they are faced with a credible threat “employers need to act quickly on behalf of their customers and their employees.”

“Circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. If someone is brave enough to come forward with a complaint, they should be guaranteed a certain level of protection,” Hetrick said.

“This will have a chilling effect on the future reporting while creating a dangerous workplace and retail environment,” Hetrick added during Tuesday’s council meeting. “It also creates a different regulatory standard for app-based contractors.”

Ashley Sutton, Technet’s executive director of Washington & Northwest, said in a statement the legislation creates separate standards just for gig workers, while raising serious privacy concerns as well.

“The Council has spent months creating a policy that would ensure gig workers are held to a different standard than everyone else,” Sutton noted. “This measure would result in unsafe working conditions for thousands of customers and employees across the city.”

Previous coverage: Rideshare companies pour millions into PAC ahead of push for Washington ballot initiative

The legislation now heads to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s desk for his signature. Harrell, who noted in a statement that, “app-based workers are an essential part of our city’s economy and deserve protections,” supports the bill. If signed, the law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2025.

Ride-hailing companies, which include Lyft and Uber, are exempt from this piece of legislation as the drivers already have protections in the state of Washington.

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Seattle City Council passes bill to limit deactivation of app-based workers