Clinton-Appointed Federal Judge Grants Injunction Blocking Seattle Unionization of Uber and Lyft Drivers

April 21, 2017

In response to separate lawsuits brought by a group of drivers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a Clinton-appointed federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction halting a Seattle ordinance that would allow ride-share drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft to engage in collective bargaining.  The injunction came just as the ordinance would have required such companies to hand over their drivers' contact information.  Independent contractors are not protected by federal collective bargaining laws, but proponents of Seattle's law contend that certain gig economy workers should be considered employees.  Recognizing the broader implications beyond those workers, Judge Robert Lasnik stated in his decision: "The issues raised here may well impact not only for-hire transportation, but also other sectors of the economy that have come to rely heavily on independent contractors instead of employees.  The issues raised in this litigation are novel, they are complex, and they reside at the intersection of national policies that have been decades in the making."  The case involves novel issues concerning antitrust laws and federal preemption of state and local labor laws, and Judge Lasnik provided several reminders that his granting of the preemption should not be taken as a "harbinger of what the ultimate decision in this case will be."  A victory for the unions could spell more such city ordinances in the future.