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Seattle Becomes the First U.S. City to Unionize the Sharing Economy

Seattle became the first U.S. city to regulate the once-rogue “gig economy,” giving taxi, for-hire and Uber drivers the ability to unionize on Monday.

The new law is a landmark decision for Seattle and the country as a whole, as it could influence the way we integrate disruptive Silicon Valley companies into our traditional economy. Typically reserved for full-time employees, unionization could also force Uber to take a long, hard look at the way they define their drivers.

And the Drama Continues…

Despite potential consequences, the decision was a unanimous one. All eight Seattle City Council members voted in favor of council member Mike O’Brien’s ordinance, ushering applause from supportive drivers in the crowded town hall.

“I’m so excited. I’m so happy,” said Takele Gobena, a Seattle-based Uber driver in an interview with the Seattle Times. “This is a big change for us.”

True to form, not everyone was supportive of the bill. Seattle mayor Ed Murray strongly opposed the law, even penning a letter to city council members expressing concern over bargaining and court costs. Murray refused to sign the bill, which will still go on to become Seattle law with or without his approval.

Uber and Lyft have echoed Murray’s sentiment, claiming the ordinance violates federal labor and antitrust laws, according to The Seattle Times. Uber also released a statement subtly criticizing the bill, suggesting that it undermines their ability to create opportunity for those looking to “earn a better living on their own time and their own terms”; a goal at the heart of Uber’s mission.

But O’Brien remains steadfast in his commitment to unionization.

‘This bill was only introduced out of necessity after witnessing how little power drivers themselves had in working for a living wage,” said O’Brien. “I am proud Seattle is continuing to lead the nation in advancing labor standards for our workers.”

Our Take

This mixed reaction highlights the confusion surrounding Uber’s intentions. Uber was created as a side hustle, not a full-time job. Drivers treating it as such, and thus demanding the benefits that accompany a traditional full-time job, are misconstruing the platform’s original intent. Taking it one step further and allowing Uber drivers to unionize blurs that line even further.

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