Seattle becomes first in U.S. to protect gig workers from sudden 'deactivation'
The Seattle City Council passed legislation Tuesday that would protect gig workers from being suddenly kicked off apps like Instacart or DoorDash.
It’s the first gig worker protection measure of its kind in the entire country.
“This will help prevent homelessness, fight displacement, and allow families to meet their basic needs,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who sponsored the bill.
According to Herbold, gig workers are being unfairly terminated, or "deactivated," as the companies call it. Workers told the council of being kicked off an app for refusing too many orders, for example, or for delays that are beyond their control.
“They actually open up the app to begin the work and they're not able to access it without receiving any advanced notice, much less an opportunity to dispute it,” Herbold told KUOW. "Often, there's an algorithm that makes the decision so it's not even a real person who's making the decision to deactivate the worker."
The ordinance sets a higher bar for when companies can “deactivate” workers. Not taking enough orders is not considered an acceptable reason. The law also requires the companies to give 14 days notice of termination.
The move is part of a broader effort to protect non-unionized gig workers by labor advocates including the group Working Washington and their allies on the Seattle City Council. Other recent Seattle laws raised the minimum wage for app-based workers and provided sick time and benefits.
“We need to really make sure that we're passing good labor protections for people who aren't legally considered employees but they're doing important work in our communities,” Herbold said.
After pushback from the app companies, the original draft of the bill was revised to include exceptions for "egregious behavior" that could, for example, pose a danger to customers. In those cases, workers can still be deactivated quickly.
In the end, the measure passed the council 6-2, with council members Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen voting against it. Both said one reason for their no vote is that the ordinance includes workers for “marketplace network company apps,” such as Rover and TaskRabbit, where gig workers set their own rates and contract directly with people in their homes. Other gig-worker laws that passed recently in the city excluded those workers, but this one did not, Nelson said.
The measure goes next to Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's desk, where he is expected to sign it into law.