Uber Faces Bitter Fight Against Unionization

A lawsuit and an unemployment decision could drastically impact this labor battle.

Photo Credit: Flickr

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is suing the city of Seattle after it passed an ordinance allowing the drivers for ride-hailing apps like Uber to unionize.

Last year, to the chagrin of Uber, Seattle became the first city to pass legislation that allows drivers to negotiate working conditions and compensation. Despite the ordinance being approved, Seattle mayor Ed Murray opposes the decision. "Seattle and thousands of other municipalities would be free to adopt their own disparate regulatory regimes, which would … inhibit the free flow of commerce among private service providers around the Nation," reads the lawsuit. The Chamber of Commerce is looking for the ruling to be suspended.

While this fight takes shape in Seattle, a recent unemployment ruling in San Diego could also shake up Uber's labor battle. Patrick Ely, a former Uber employee, was just rewarded $9,308 in unemployment compensation by the California's Employment Development Department. Uber has consistently argued that its drivers are not actually employees, but independent contractors. However, independent contractors aren't eligible for unemployment, which means the subject of Ely's compensation could become an important part of this story.

This summer Uber will attempt to thwart a class-action lawsuit brought by California drivers who are looking to be classified as employees. A piece in the San Jose Mercury News quotes Mark Burton Jr., a partner with Hersh & Hersh in San Francisco, who believes lawyers for the drivers might be able to introduce the Ely decision into their case. "It may not be binding," Burton said, "but it might be something that could add to the facts of the case." The case is set for trial on June 20.

Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

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