Rideshare drivers spar over who should vote on forming a union

SEATTLE — Seattle City Council chambers were filled to capacity Wednesday afternoon, when Uber and Lyft drivers voiced their opinions on who should be able to vote on a potential rideshare union.

In December, Seattle was the first city in the nation to allow collective bargaining by rideshare drivers. Since then, the city’s Finance and Administrative Services Department has been holding meetings for drivers and companies alike, trying to figure out how to execute the process.

Department staff members said Wednesday that they need six more months to determine the rules.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has sued the city of Seattle, questioning the legality of allowing independent contractors to unionize. The city has asked for that lawsuit to be dismissed, and the decision from a judge could be made this week.

“I’m still kind of on the fence about the union,” said Gary Kunze, who drives for both Uber and Lyft. “I mean, having a union might stabilize prices, but as I’ve said – if there’s a guy with more seniority than me who wants to drive, they may be able to tell me, sorry you can’t drive today.”




Kunze said he’s afraid of sudden rate adjustments made by the companies, with no notice given to drivers. But he’s also afraid of union rules restricting how many drivers can work at one time.

In Wednesday’s meeting, more full-time drivers seemed to support the idea of a union, while more part-time drivers opposed it.

Many of them spoke up, saying every driver should have a say in a potential union.

But Don Creery, a full-time driver, told the council committee, “We perform 80 percent of the rides. It’s the full-time driver that creates the platform that allows the casual and part-time drivers to supplement their incomes.”

He said collective bargaining is a right.

“The people who oppose this right know the easiest way to do it is to dilute the voting pool when it comes time for drivers to make this decision,” he added.

When asked whether including all drivers would help their case in preventing a union, Caleb Weaver, a spokesperson for Uber Seattle, said, “This will affect every driver. So we think every driver ought to have that voice.”

A Lyft spokesperson said the company is concerned about driver privacy, since the city would request information on drivers and trips.

Adrian Durbin, a spokesperson for Lyft, said in a statement: "We share the concerns raised at today's hearing that the ordinance threatens the privacy of drivers and undermines the flexibility that makes Lyft so attractive to drivers and passengers alike. The serious concerns raised by FAS early in this process are still unresolved."

But Kunze said he couldn’t care less about privacy issues. He’s mainly concerned with how a union would affect his ability to maintain flexibility and to earn a good living.