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Uber’s attempt to block Seattle drivers from unionizing has failed

A Washington state judge put the brakes on Uber’s attempt to block the city of Seattle from implementing a landmark law allowing freelance drivers for ride-hailing companies to unionize, according to Reuters. The law still faces two lawsuits in federal court.

The law passed by the Seattle city council in a 9-0 vote back in December 2015 was a first of its kind. It allows drivers for ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft to unionize and collectively bargain for better working conditions, earnings, and other benefits. The bill was a victory for the App-Based Drivers Association, which had lobbied with the local Teamsters union on behalf of freelance contractors.

After its passage in December 2015, Uber and Lyft declined to challenge it outright, instead supporting a lawsuit brought by the pro-business, anti-union US Chamber of Commerce. But then in August, a judge tossed the chamber’s lawsuit, calling it premature until the city moved forward with implementation.

The Chamber has since refiled its lawsuit against the law. The business group is arguing that the measure violates federal labor laws regulating independent contractors. Another anti-union group, Freedom Foundation, has also filed a challenge against the law.

Dawn Gearhart, business representative for Teamsters Local 117, praised the judge’s ruling. “The city is two-for-two,” she told The Verge, referring to two court challenges the law has now overcome. “But there’s still two more.”

She said that Uber and Lyft drivers should feel positive about the judge’s ruling, but noted that the uncertainty surrounding the law represents “another day when these drivers can get fired without cause or have no recourse in a dispute with a customer.”

“While it’s encouraging to have favorable legal decisions, drivers are struggling for basic dignity and a living wage while Uber forces the city into court,” she added later via email. “Conditions are getting worse and drivers won’t see meaningful change until they have a voice.”

Meanwhile, Uber won’t say whether it intends to appeal the judge’s ruling, but the company did criticize the scope of the law, which only applies to drivers who complete a certain number of trips and have been driving on their respective platforms prior to the law’s January implementation.

“The city’s collective bargaining ordinance rules deny thousands of Seattle drivers a voice and a vote on their future,” said Brooke Steger, Uber’s general manager for the Pacific Northwest, in a statement. “We were forced to pursue a novel legal approach because the city provided no other way to challenge this deeply flawed process. We appreciate Judge Andrus’s consideration of the suit. Seattle should be working to give drivers a voice rather than denying them one. We will continue to look for ways to raise these very serious concerns.”

Uber has been prodding drivers in Seattle to listen to company-produced podcasts that drivers say are meant to sway them against unionizing. Uber says the drivers are not required to listen to the podcasts.

A possible twist in all this: last year, The Verge uncovered evidence of Uber using a CIA-linked firm to investigate union politics in Seattle. Uber confirmed the project and characterized the effort as research into the city’s political landscape, emphasizing that it was not targeted at any individuals or drivers.

The ruling is the latest blow to Uber, which has been engulfed in public relations turmoil since a former engineer went public with allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct. At least 10 top executives have resigned in recent weeks, including most recently the company’s president in charge of driver relations.

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