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Seattle Ordinance Allowing Ride-Sharing Drivers to Unionize Temporarily Blocked by Ninth Circuit

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily blocked enforcement of the City of Seattle’s Ordinance 124968, which grants certain collective bargaining rights to independent contractors who drive for ride-sharing companies like Uber.  

The Ordinance, which was effective in January 2016, allows eligible drivers to collectively bargain with the companies that contract with them. Legal challenges against the Ordinance were expected. 

The dispute has an extended procedural history. Soon after Teamsters Local 117 sought to represent certain drivers in collective bargaining, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Chamber of Commerce members Uber Technologies, Inc. and Lyft, Inc. (collectively, the “Chamber”), sought to enjoin enforcement of the Ordinance in federal district court on the grounds that it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act and otherwise violated federal anti-trust laws. The district court, recognizing the “novel” issues raised by the Ordinance and the Chamber’s challenge, preliminarily blocked enforcement of the Ordinance, finding the public would be “well-served by maintaining the status quo while the issues are given careful judicial consideration.” Thereafter, the court changed course and granted the City’s motion to dismiss, ruling the Ordinance was lawful and enforceable. Nonetheless, the court decided to keep in place its preliminary injunction, pending resolution of a “companion case” similarly challenging the Ordinance. 

Later, the district court denied the Chamber’s motion to keep the preliminary injunction in place until resolution of its appeal, finding the Chamber had failed to state a claim with respect to its challenges against the Ordinance, which demonstrated, it said, that the Chamber similarly failed to establish a “likelihood of success on the merits,” a necessary factor in seeking injunctive relief.  

The Chamber’s “emergency motion for injunctive relief pending appeal” was granted “temporarily” by the Ninth Circuit to give that court an “opportunity to consider the emergency motion.” A ruling is expected after September 7. 

In addition to the significant impact this case will have on ride-sharing operations in Seattle, this case will provide a roadmap for other states and localities that wish to regulate collective bargaining rights of their local ride-sharing operations, in addition to a broader range of services provided by independent contractors who otherwise are unable to collectively bargain under the protections of the National Labor Relations Act. 

This case is far from over, and, given the extensive impact the ruling will have, it may require the Supreme Court’s final word.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume VII, Number 248


About this Author


Adam C. Doerr is an Associate in the St. Louis, Missouri, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He represents management in labor and employment matters before state and federal courts, administrative agencies and arbitrators.

Mr. Doerr’s practice involves representing clients in all phases of litigation, including jury and bench trials, dispositive motions, discovery, pre-trial strategy, and client counseling and best practices. Mr. Doerr’s experience includes investigating allegations of employee and managerial misconduct and ...

Philip B. Rosen Jackson Lewis  Preventive Practices Lawyer & Collective Bargaining Attorney

Philip B. Rosen is a Principal in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is a member of the firm's Board of Directors and co-leads the firm's Labor and Preventive Practices Group. He joined the firm in 1979 and served as Managing Partner of the New York City office from 1989 to 2009.

Mr. Rosen lectures extensively, conducts management training, and advises clients with respect to legislative and regulatory initiatives, corporate strategies, business ethics, social media, reorganizations and reductions-in-force, purchase/sale transactions, sexual harassment and other workplace conduct rules, compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, wrongful discharge and other workplace litigation, corporate campaigns and union organizing matters, collective bargaining, arbitration and National Labor Relations Board proceedings. He has been quoted by the press on many labor matters, including the National Labor Relations Board’s recent initiatives on protected concerted activity and the proposed Notice Posting requirements.

Mr. Rosen has extensive experience advising clients developing integrated corporate-wide labor relations strategies - whether the organization is union-free, partially unionized or entirely unionized. He has led teams conducting multi-facility labor-related legal assessments where clients are seeking to develop creative, strategic legal approaches which anticipate major issues and achieve a company’s labor relations goals. Mr. Rosen also has advised clients being confronted with corporate campaigns and requests for neutrality agreements. He has represented organizations seeking to maximize management rights through their development of pro-active employee relations approaches to remain union-free. He also has advised unionized organizations on lawful negotiating strategies – in situations ranging from “hard bargaining” to recapture management rights to more “cooperative” negotiations – in all cases, providing legal advice designed to assist clients in achieving their primary goals.