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Seattle Ordinance Giving Drivers Right to Collectively Bargain Not Preempted by NLRA

A landmark law giving drivers of app-based transportation companies, such as Uber and Lyft, the right to collectively bargain is not preempted by the National Labor Relations Act, a three-member panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. U.S. Chamber of Commerce v. City of Seattle, No. 17-35640 (9th Cir. May 11, 2018).

Among other things, the NLRA regulates union activity and collective bargaining among almost all private-sector employees in the United States. The Seattle law affords covered drivers with rights analogous to those accorded employees under the NLRA, such as the right to select a representative to negotiate certain terms and conditions of employment.

The Court also ruled the law is not exempted from the Sherman Antitrust Act, under the Sherman Act’s exemption for states to enact laws that regulate competition. (The Sherman Act prohibits price-fixing and other practices that inhibit competition.) The Ninth Circuit panel decided that Seattle’s law did not meet either of the exemption’s requirements. First, the law does “not ‘plainly show’ that the Washington legislature ‘contemplated’ allowing for-hire drivers to price-fix their compensation.” Second, “[i]t is undisputed that the State of Washington plays no role in supervising or enforcing the terms of the City’s ordinance,” the Court said, and the lack of active state supervision meant the “active-supervision requirement” of the exemption also was not met.

The Seattle City Council passed the law on December 13, 2015; it took effect in January 2016. From the outset, the law faced numerous legal challenges, with advocates for businesses and employees weighing in. On its face, the law is intended to improve public health, safety, and welfare by providing Seattle with a means to regulate for-hire and taxicab transportation services.

In addition to opening the door to further legal challenges under the Sherman Act, the panel’s ruling offers a potential silver-lining to workers’ rights advocates. By ruling that the law was not preempted by the NLRA, efforts to organize independent contractors, who are exempt from the NLRA, may increase through the passage of state laws similar to Seattle’s.

Rachel Munoz contributed to this post.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2018

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Howard Bloom, Jackson Lewis, labor union attorney, unfair practice investigations lawyer, employment legal counsel, bargaining law
Principal

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues. He trains and advises executives, managers and supervisors on union awareness and positive employee relations, and assists employers in connection with union card-signing efforts, traditional union representation and corporate campaigns, and union decertification...

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

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.

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