Lawsuit says scheme to impose Teamsters union on independent contractors violates drivers’ First Amendment rights & federal labor law
Seattle, WA (March 10, 2017) – Today, eleven independent drivers are filing a federal lawsuit to block the Seattle City Council’s controversial ordinance designed to impose forced unionism on independent for-hire and ride-sharing drivers. These drivers use the popular Uber and Lyft apps to pick up customers. Dan Clark, lead plaintiff in the suit, is an independent driver who picks up riders through both Uber and Lyft.
The drivers are filing suit against the City of Seattle in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington with free legal representation by staff attorneys from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Washington state-based Freedom Foundation. The drivers’ federal lawsuit argues that the Seattle ordinance is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act and that imposing union representation and forced dues on them violates their First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association.
Over 9,000 independent drivers in the Seattle area collect riders through the Uber and Lyft apps, accounting for tens of thousands of rides daily across the Emerald City area. Last week Teamsters union officials, who pushed for passage of the first-in-the-nation Seattle ordinance subjecting ride-sharing drivers to forced unionism, filed papers with the city formally declaring their intent to unionize drivers who work with Uber and Lyft, as well as Eastside Town Car and Limousine, LLC.
“Teamsters union bosses are attempting to impose their 1920s era forced unionism model on a 21st-century workforce,” said Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “Polls consistently show Americans overwhelmingly oppose workers being forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of working.”
“Expanding forced unionism to independent drivers is not only wrong, it is a violation of federal law and the First Amendment rights of drivers who never asked for and don’t want union officials’ so-called ‘representation,’” Mix continued. “Big Labor’s one-size-fits-all, top down model is the very antithesis of ride-sharing which attracts drivers by connecting them with consumers and providing them the freedom to decide when to work and through which app to find customers.”
Background: Teamster-Backed Seattle Law Attempts to Expand Forced Unionism to Ride-Sharing Independent Drivers
In 2015, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance that targeted independent drivers, such as those who contract with Uber and Lyft, for compulsory unionization. The bill authorizes unionization through the coercive and unreliable card-check system as opposed to a secret ballot vote and allows union officials to make payment of union dues or fees mandatory, even for drivers who oppose union representation. Under ‘card check,’ cards solicited and collected from individuals by professional union organizers are counted as ‘votes’ for unionization, despite numerous examples of workers signing the cards as a result of being pressured, misled, threatened or even bribed.
The ordinance further mandates that companies turn over private personal contact information for drivers to union organizers, even for drivers who have shown no interest in unionization or actively oppose the union. In addition, should the Teamsters successfully “organize” drivers through a card check, city administrators are empowered to impose a union contract on the drivers and companies if an agreement isn’t reached within 90 days of the unionization certification.
The ordinance was passed by the Seattle City Council in September 2015 after heavy lobbying by Teamsters union officials who sought to take advantage of independent drivers and force them to pay dues to the union as a condition of picking up riders through the apps. Shortly after the bill was passed, the National Right to Work Foundation issued a special legal notice to Seattle independent driver contractors, notifying them of their rights and offering free legal aid. A number of concerned drivers then reached out to the Foundation for help.
After the bill became law in December 2015, the ordinance was put on hold until January 2017 while the Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) finalized the unionization process. The final rule defines ‘qualifying drivers’ who are eligible to vote on unionization as drivers who have completed 52 rides beginning or ending in Seattle in the last 90 days, regardless of whether or not a driver wants anything to do with a union.
These so-called “qualifying drivers” will be the only drivers eligible to vote on union representation, despite the fact that all drivers who contract with these companies will be subject to the forced unionism terms. Effectively, Teamster cards collected from a small fraction of all drivers could result in the unionization of more than 9,000 drivers in Seattle, plus any future drivers.
On March 7, 2017, officials from Teamsters Union Local 117 filed a notice of their intent to unionize drivers associated with Uber and Lyft, as well as Eastside Town Car and Limousine, LLC. The three companies now have until April 2 to turn over to the union the personal contact information for the fraction of total drivers who are designated by the City as eligible to vote on unionization. These drivers are filing their lawsuit now because they have a limited window before their personal information will be forcibly delivered to union officials against their wishes.
To view a copy of the filed complaint please click here.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in around 250 cases nationwide per year.