Uber’s Seattle woes: union battle could see company leave another major city
The $70bn company is locked in a legal fight with drivers who want to unionize, and has hinted it might do what it did in Austin: pack up and go
Uber is threatening to leave Seattle if it cannot stop a potential union election, and some Uber drivers could not be happier.
Uber came and killed my business, said Tewodros Ashene, an Ethiopian immigrant who is proud to display the 7,588 five-star trips he has earned on the Uber platform. Before the ride-hail company came to town, Ashene owned a limousine company and made a good living. Now, he is working 16 hours a day to make the same amount of money he used to make in eight.
If Uber leaves Seattle, its good, he said. I can restart my limo business.
Ubers future in the Pacific northwest city has been thrown into question by a 2015 law passed by the Seattle city council that allows app-based drivers to bargain collectively. The first-of-its-kind law is an existential threat to a key aspect of Ubers business model: classifying its army of drivers as independent contractors and thereby avoiding laws that allows workers to unionize.
Uber has fought hard to have the bill overthrown, and on Tuesday it received a reprieve when a judge temporarily blocked the law to allow the latest legal challenge to proceed.But if Uber doesnt end up getting its way in court, the $70bn company has hinted that it might do in Seattle what it did in Austin, Texas: pack up its bags and go home. Withdrawing from a second major US city would only add to the embattled companys current woes, which include a video of the CEO berating an Uber driver, allegations of widespread sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and a major legal battle with Google.
Were unsure of the future of Uber in Seattle, Uber Pacific northwest general manager Brooke Steger said at an event last month. We dont know if we will be able to continue to operate here.
In a statement to the Guardian, Steger promised to bargain in good faithbut warned: If we are forced to adhere to the old taxi way of doing business, then all options are on the table.
If they leave, itll be better
While the threat of Ubers departure may seem like a nightmare to the citys passengers, among the scores of drivers waiting for a fare at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport on a recent afternoon, it was almost universally welcomed. Drivers left their cars and mingled amid the Priuses in small groups. Conversations revolved around the various iniquities and indignities of driving for Uber.
If they leave, itll be better, said Navneet Singh, who was a taxi driver for 15 years before he began driving for Uber two years ago. Singh was furious about a recent Uber Pool trip from the airport to Olympia, Washington, (more than 50 miles) for which hed been paid just $15.88.