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Seattle City Council Votes To Allow Uber Drivers To Unionize


Seattle was the first major city to adopt a $15 minimum-wage law. And now that city is taking on Uber and Lyft, companies that are competing with taxis. Seattle's City Council just passed an ordinance requiring those companies to share the names of their drivers with union organizers. From Seattle, here's Ashley Gross from member station KPLU.

ASHLEY GROSS, BYLINE: Drivers packed the city council meeting to support the collective bargaining bill. One of them was Saad Lemouchi. He's been driving for Uber for the past year but says he often makes less than minimum wage after expenses.

SAAD LEMOUCHI: Sometimes it's not even, like, $6 an hour.

GROSS: He says Uber has lowered its per mile charge, and he's also frustrated by the amount of each fair that the company keeps.

LEMOUCHI: We need to do something. We need to stand up and do something and be everybody on the same page.

GROSS: The ordinance requires the companies to provide a list of their drivers to the union or nonprofit which seeks to represent them. It's an issue relevant to the entire gig economy, in which app-based companies facilitate sales of everything from graphic design to renting out a bedroom. This is the kind of thing that gets Seattle City Council fired up - trying to figure out how a city can alleviate income inequality or help workers who have no benefits because they're classified as independent contractors. Here's councilmember Kshama Sawant.


KSHAMA SAWANT: Now a full one-third of U.S. workers identify as freelance. And most of those are not six-figure-salary-earning consultants for Microsoft.

GROSS: Each of the council members spoke up in favor, and then the vote was tallied.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Eight in favor, one opposed.

TIM BURGESS: The bill passes, and the chair will sign it.


GROSS: Even the city council knows this will almost certainly be challenged in court. Mayor Ed Murray acknowledged that in a letter to the council and said he won't sign the measure, though it will still become law. David Plouffe is President Barack Obama's former campaign manager and now a top adviser to Uber. He says federal law is clear that independent contractors don't have the right to collective bargaining. And Plouffe says the company hasn't heard from drivers that they want to unionize.

DAVID PLOUFFE: People are smart. They don't do things that don't work for them. People are flooding onto our platform because they are finding that it's working for them.

GROSS: Still, even if the measure gets bogged down in a legal battle, Uber driver Saad Lemouchi is savoring this moment.

LEMOUCHI: I feel so great for myself and for my friends here, all the drivers here. It's a big, big thing in Seattle here because this bill never happens anywhere.

GROSS: Lemouchi says he likes the flexibility of driving for Uber, but he wants to have more of a voice in setting working conditions. And he's hopeful this collective bargaining ordinance is the answer. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Gross in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.