November 2, 2017

Roadblock: Seattle’s Assault on the Sharing Economy

By Timothy R. Snowball Attorney

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects not only our right to speak and associate with whomever we choose, but also the commensurate right to refuse to speak and associate. Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States has recognized that freedom of association, like the freedom of speech, “lies at the foundation of a free society.” Also at the foundation of a free society is the individual right to pursue an honest living free from government encumbrance.

In recent years, the new “sharing economy” has produced an abundance of opportunities for some of the most economically disadvantaged members of our society, as well as providing affordable access to goods and services to the public. However, in recent years as millennial workers have moved away from the antiquated vestiges of labor unions, there has been renewed efforts by labor leaders and their political allies to capture and retain this professionally flexible demographic.

The most egregious of these efforts is the 2015 enactment by the Seattle City Council (at the behest of the Teamsters) of a first-in-the-nation Ordinance allowing unions to insert themselves as exclusive representatives to collectively negotiate contract terms for independent contractors for ride-sharing apps including Uber and Lyft. The Ordinance eliminates the drivers’ rights to speak and contract with driver coordinators or negotiate the terms of their own business relationships without going through the union empowered by the city. Not only is this Ordinance a patent violation of the independent contractors’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association, but it places an unprecedented roadblock in the path of the very flexibility that has enabled the sharing economy to effectively provide opportunities, goods, and services to the public.

Today, PLF filed an amicus brief in Clark v. City of Seattle, the case in which the independent contractors’ are fighting back against this unprecedented power grab by the Seattle City Council. The purpose of the First Amendment, like all provisions of the Bill of Rights, is to withdraw certain pre-existing rights from the vagaries of political controversy by placing them beyond the majoritarian whims of bodies like the Seattle City Council. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit should protect the First Amendment rights of these independent contractors and the future of the sharing economy by holding this Ordinance unconstitutional.

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