A federal judge ruled Tuesday in favor of labor unions, and against the upstart transportation companies Uber and Lyft, in a much-watched lawsuit stemming from a Seattle city ordinance.
However, the ruling was preliminary and may not give much of an indication of how the case will ultimately be decided.
In 2015, Seattle became the first American city to pass a law giving taxi drivers, and drivers who work for car-hire applications, the right to collectively bargain about wages and working conditions.
Today, Uber and Lyft consider all their drivers to be so-called independent contractors. This means that drivers do not receive benefits from the company, they pay their own employment taxes, and they face heavy burdens on any attempts to organize a union.
Throughout the country, Uber and Lyft have worked to attack local laws that challenge this business model. This has included well-funded lobbying efforts, referendum campaigns, and – if all else fails – lawsuits.
In Seattle’s case, a coalition of progressive politicians and organized labor helped push the right to organize legislation through the city council. While Uber and Lyft organized significant opposition and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray publicly criticized the ordinance, the city council adopted it unanimously.
The Teamsters Union was a leader in the fight for the Seattle ordinance, and they found themselves facing a familiar foe in the aftermath. The lawsuit that was considered Tuesday was filed in March by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group primarily funded by large corporations that engages in significantly lobbying and political efforts and often opposes organized labor.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that despite having Uber as member, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not have legal standing to bring a case against Seattle.
“Neither of the Chambers’ members has suffered an injury that is traceable to the Ordinance and would be redressed if the Ordinance were declared invalid or enforcement were otherwise enjoined,” Lasnik wrote in his decision. “Thus, the Chamber itself has no standing to pursue the claims asserted in this litigation.”
Attorneys for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Uber and Lyft, however, noted that future challenges would not face that hurdle. Instead, they portrayed the ruling as the first step in a battle to prove that the Seattle ordinance illegally attempts to circumvent federal labor laws.
For Uber and Lyft, and their drivers, the day of reckoning is still ahead.
Jay Sekulow is an American attorney and Supreme Court advocate.