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Which Uber drivers get to vote on union? Seattle officials must decide soon

Seattle’s attempt to offer collective bargaining to the city’s Uber and Lyft drivers is facing delays.

The ordinance allowing those drivers to unionize was scheduled to take effect in September. But city officials say they aren’t ready to implement it yet. And they still need to settle a divisive issue: which drivers will get to vote on the union when the time comes.

Seattle officials say the workshops they’ve held for drivers this summer were not well-attended.

Uber has about 10,000 drivers in Seattle, but just 180 showed up to the city meetings. So officials with the city’s Finance and Administrative Services department are seeking a six-month extension to do more outreach.

Meanwhile the drivers who packed the City Council chambers Wednesday were in two groups. Many union opponents wore green t-shirts provided by Uber. Some union supporters waved placards for “Driver Unity.”

With dozens of drivers signed up to give public testimony, Councilmember Bruce Harrell asked them to weigh in specifically on which drivers should be eligible to vote on collective bargaining: those who drive full-time or part-time.

Some drivers used the slogan “one ride, one vote;” saying every driver should be included.

Suzy Harrison is a senior citizen with bright pink hair who drives part-time for Uber and wants the chance to vote on union representation.

“It needs to be inclusive of all drivers. We need to have a voice, and we need to have a say in the union,” she said.

Many part-time drivers say they fear losing flexibility over their schedules if a union steps in.

But Uber driver and union supporter Mohamed Darrag said driver flexibility isn’t threatened by this effort. He said drivers need a union because Uber has not been responsive to their problems, which he defined as “cutting rates and raising commissions and deactivation for the drivers.”

Darrag said that deactivation from the Uber app is a fancy word for "You’re fired."

Other drivers said their hourly pay works out to just half of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage.

Union supporters said including all drivers would dilute the voting pool and make it harder for a union to get majority approval.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell asked city officials to make a decision soon on who gets to vote. The city is also awaiting a federal court ruling on whether the initiative will be allowed to go forward.

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