Unionize Uber? Legal fight over Seattle drivers draws national attention

The city has given Teamsters Local 117 permission to begin trying to organize drivers, and companies must turn over drivers’ contact information to the group by April 3. That is, unless the court intervenes.

Charles Jenkins first appeared on an Uber-sponsored podcast four months ago. Since then, he’s explained on several episodes why Seattle’s law allowing Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers to unionize would hurt entrepreneurs like him.

“It sounds to me like you’re adding a middle man in a place where a middle man is not necessary between me as a driver and Uber as my partner,” Jenkins, 51, said in an episode. “It just doesn’t make any sense because I’m not an employee.”

The podcast series, which is delivered through the app drivers use, is just one way Uber is trying to convince drivers that unionizing would be a mistake. The company has used TV and newspaper advertisements, too, as well as emails and in-person meetings.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

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Meanwhile, Teamsters Local 117 is moving forward with its efforts to organize for-hire drivers, saying a union would give them the chance to collectively bargain on a company-by-company basis over issues such as better pay.

Both campaigns could prove meaningless if federal lawsuits seeking…

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