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Uber and Teamsters find common ground on one part of bargaining process

An Uber driver near the San Francisco International Airport.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
File photo of Uber driver at near the San Francisco International Airport.

Uber drivers packed themselves into a public hearing hosted by the City of Seattle Tuesday. The topic: an ordinance that lets drivers vote on whether to unionize.

The debate now is over which drivers will get to vote on whether to form a union. The city's proposal would give most drivers a vote, except those that only give a few rides a week.

But Uber and a local Teamsters union think all drivers should have a say. Uber said denying some people a vote will silence them on decisions that affect their work.

Teamsters Local 117 agrees. But union organizer Dawn Gearhart thinks votes should be weighted so that full-time drivers have a bigger voice.

Gearhart: "Those people who are making a livelihood, or they are supporting themselves and their families using this job should be able to have a say in the decision making that's proportionate to their interest in the company."

Who gets to vote is one of the few things Uber and the Teamsters agree on. Teamsters support drivers having a union and Uberdoesn't.

Gearhart also contends there's a reason Uber wants all drivers to vote on unionizing: to flood the bargaining unit and prevent drivers from reaching consensus.

Drivers have mixed feelings on whether to unionize and who should get to vote.

Annie Felise said attending the public hearing helped clarify things for her.

Felise: "It sounds to me like actually it might be a really good thing to have a unified voice, because there are things that could be improved upon, and we really don't have any say in anything right now, we're just a person in a car with a phone."

She said Uber officials have shared with drivers that unionizing would not be a good thing. Rival company Lyft has not been as vocally opposed to the collective bargaining process.

City officials will decide in the coming weeks which drivers will get to vote. The city's Finance and Administrative Services Department is leading the process.

Having drivers decide whether to unionize was a process initiated by Councilmember Mike O'Brien. He said it was introduced "out of necessity after witnessing how little power drivers themselves had in working for a living wage."