Can Seattle Launch a Movement for a New Kind of Workers’ Union?
This city is a national leader in trying to make Uber and Lyft negotiate working conditions with their drivers. Which raises a question: In the new “on-demand” economy, what form would a unionized workforce take?
On October 1, two days after Lyft announced that it would be opening a satellite office in Seattle, the San Francisco–based company hosted a Thursday night schmooze involving journalists, drivers, and riders at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room on Capitol Hill.
It was interesting timing for a party. A month earlier, Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien had introduced a union-backed bill that would allow Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, and other transportation network company drivers to collectively bargain with the companies running their apps. No city had tried anything like that before. Local debuts of unregulated, on-demand apps usually provoke some kind of reaction from flustered city governments, but until O’Brien’s proposed regulation, no municipalities had attempted to legislate—or even define—the organizing rights of on-demand workers.