Councilmember O’Brien Announces Legislation Allowing Uber Employees to Unionize

Councilmember Mike O’Brien just introduced a very interesting piece of legislature. Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post has the scoop:

Councilmember Mike O'Brien

Councilmember Mike O’Brien

Here’s how the new system , which will be formally introduced in the Council next week, would work: Drivers would vote on a non-profit organization to serve as their “exclusive driver representative,” which would then negotiate a contract with the company. If the two parties fail to come to an agreement, they have to submit to arbitration. The resulting contract would be enforced through the courts, rather than the National Labor Relations Board, which unions have found to be slow and sometimes ineffective in deterring employers from violating contract terms.If it worked, it could theoretically be extended to cover other kinds of independent contractors, like the port truck drivers who ferry containers from docks to rail yards and warehouses, or other workers on internet platforms like Taskrabbit.

This is an interesting idea, one which attempts to solve an ever-worsening problem: too many of our employees are contract workers, and therefore not eligible for minimum wages and benefits and overtime and all the other worker protections that we’ve taken for granted for too long. The bill will be introduced next week, and the City Council’s page on the legislation has officially gone live.

Congratulations are due to Councilmember O’Brien for his attempts to solve a pervasive problem in our work culture on a local level. We need as many innovators as possible working to find solutions for these problems. It’s especially important to have those leaders in Seattle, because the $15 minimum wage demonstrated that the nation considers us to be a leader on labor issues. If this bill takes off, it will likely be copied by other metropolitan areas around the country.

On a national level, Civic Ventures co-founder Nick Hanauer and SEIU 775 president David Rolf have proposed a streamlined Shared Security System that would use technology and innovation to streamline the employment process and offer all Americans a basic suite of benefits and protections. But for an ambitious plan like this one to succeed, we need lawmakers like Mike O’Brien to promote solutions on a local level, to continue reminding the public that this problem is not going to solve itself, and that it’s certainly not going to be solved by the invisible hand of the market.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.