What might seem to be a futile attempt at overturning a traditional law that independent contractors cannot unionize as it constitutes an anti-trust issue? The City of Seattle decided to take the law into is own hands and allow Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize. In response, the US Chamber of Commerce (COC) stepped in and sued the City of Seattle.
The COC is not a friend to Uber or Lyft; it is an unbiased body that is trying to maintain a legal framework that supports the law in every possible way. Since the anti-trust laws do not allow for independent drivers to unionize, the case of Uber drivers is a major issue, since if one independent contractor will be allowed to unionize it would destroy the entire infrastructure of the law. So the case here is not Uber or Lyft, it is about the US Legal system and the impact this case will have on the anti-trust laws. The issue of anti-trust law comes into effect when "price fixing" is probable. In the case of unionized independent contractors, this would lead to "price fixing" on a major scale.
The City of Seattle decided that they knew better than the law of the US, and allowed Uber and Lyft drivers to form a union. Uber and Lyft drivers are all signed on a partnership contract that defines drivers as an independent contractor.
The first response to the COC's law suit was rejected by District Court Judge Robert Lasnik in August 2017. The COC then appealed this finding and is now facing three federal judges in the 9th Circuit of the Court of Appeals. There are three sides in this appeal; the COC, the City of Seattle and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The City of Seattle is trying to pull a fast stunt, by claiming that there is a link between the low wages paid by Uber and the safety of the passengers. Where they claim that the drivers try to supplement their incomes by driving for too many hours, which causes fatigue and is a safety issue, or they subsidize their income by reducing maintenance costs, which leads to unsafe vehicles, and again to safety issues.
The current judges are skeptical of these claims, and not because the claims are unjust, but because they have nothing to do with the anti-trust issue. Safety and reliability are an important issue, but not important enough to defy an anti-trust law and give the drivers the potential power to "price fix" through leveraged negotiations.
Uber claims it presented its case well enough and stood by its position that the drivers are independent contractors they cannot unionize and that the gross incomes are set at $19 - $21 which is well above the city's minimum wage. The drivers are split in their response, where some claim only to make around $4-$5 per hour and others claiming to make the minimum wage of $15 per hour. What the drivers do not state is the number of hours they work for each pay increment.
The City of Seattle expects it will have to take the issue to the Supreme Court.
They most probably will, but the issue is not about the drivers, it is about the law, and the Supreme Court will have to factor in the issue of Uber's driver contracts to make a final decision. Another issue is the law itself; the Supreme Court will most probably defer the changes in the anti-trust law to the Senate, claiming that the unionization of independent contractors is the main issue of the law and as such must be addressed by the lawmakers. The bottom line is this. First, the Supreme Court has to decide whether or not the drivers are independent contractors or employees. If the result is that they are independent contractors, the chance that the Supreme Court will change the anti-trust laws in such a major way is zero.
It comes down to understanding the interaction between the Supreme Court and the House. The Supreme court will on many occasions provide an interpretation of the law, in some instances they can cancel a law that is considered anti-constitutional. However, this is not the case here. There is no issue with the constitutional state of the law, it is a purely a commercial law, with implications on the effectiveness of the US market. Since the case is dealing with issues that are based on defining one side (drivers), before interpretation can be made (employees or independent contractors), there is no chance that the Supreme Court will go against the interpretation of the law.
In other words, if the drivers are defined as independent contractors by the Supreme Court, the case will be closed, and the City of Seattle will have shot itself in the proverbial foot by trying to be too clever for itself.