The Washington state Senate on Friday passed a bill giving gig drivers certain benefits and protections while preventing them from being classified as employees — a longstanding priority of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.
While the vote appears to pave the way for final passage after a similar measure was passed by the state House of Representatives last week, the two bills still need to be reconciled before being sent to the governor. for approval. Gov. Jay Inslee has not said whether he intends to sign the legislation.
Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Mr. Inslee, said Friday that the governor’s office generally does not “speculate on the bill’s action”, adding: “Once lawmakers send it to our office , we will evaluate it”.
The Senate legislation – the result of a compromise between the companies and at least one prominent local union, the Teamsters – was approved by a 40-8 vote.
In a statement, John Scearcy, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117, said the union was “proud to stand in solidarity with Uber and Lyft drivers in winning their demands for wage increases” and other advantages.
Uber and Lyft noted in regulatory deposits that requiring drivers to be classified as employees would force them to change their business model and could expose them financially. They sought similar compromises in states like California and New York, but those efforts crumbled in the face of resistance from other unions and worker advocates, who argued that gig drivers shouldn’t have to settle for second-class status. Many of these advocates have also criticized Washington’s bill.
“While the bill provides some benefits to drivers, it would permanently close the door on drivers’ access to their rights as employees,” said Brian Chen of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group. “It’s a misstep with serious ramifications, which is concerning given how quickly this bill is moving through the legislature.”
As part of the compromise, drivers would receive benefits such as paid sick leave and a minimum rate of pay. The bill would also create a process for drivers to appeal so-called disablements, which prevent them from finding work through companies’ apps.
While minimum wage rates only apply to the time drivers spend with a passenger in the car, supporters of the bill say the rates have been set high enough to fairly compensate drivers for all of their time. work after expenses. Rates will be adjusted over time to reflect increases in the cost of living.
Like other contractors, drivers must pay all payroll taxes and cannot unionize under federal law.
The bill is largely silent on unemployment benefits, which employees are entitled to, but Washington state has often found that gig drivers should already be receiving those benefits. The bill will create a task force to study what gig business contributions should be to an unemployment insurance trust fund, an issue that has been contentious in other states.
A particularly controversial feature of the bill is that it would prevent local jurisdictions from regulating drivers’ rights. A similar feature helped inflame the opposition that killed prospects for such a bill in New York state last year.
Seattle enacted a strong minimum wage law for gig drivers in 2020, which sought to provide drivers with an hourly wage of around $30 before expenses and was heavily criticized by gig companies. The statewide bill approved Friday preserved current rates in Seattle, which will continue to be higher than the rest of the state, but would preempt similar legislation in the future.
Looming in the background of legislative action in Washington state was the possibility of a ballot measure that could have locked in contractor status with lower benefits for drivers. After California passed a law in 2019 that effectively classified gig workers as employees, Uber, Lyft and other gig companies spent an estimated $200 million on a ballot measure, Proposition 22, which has canceled these protections. The legislation remains in litigation after a state judge ruled it unconstitutional.
Representative Liz Berry, who introduced Washington state’s bill, said the differences between it and Proposition 22 “couldn’t be more stark.”
“My objective was: what do the workers want? What are the drivers asking? And we deliver everything they asked for,” Ms. Berry said in an interview, adding that unlike California law, “our bill has real benefits that Washington state employees enjoy.”
Jen Hensley, head of government relations at Lyft, said in a statement that the bill is “a solution Washington State drivers overwhelmingly support. Not only does it provide significant new benefits, but it also extends important protections for them. A statement from Uber echoed those comments.
But some Washington lawmakers had doubts.
Ahead of Friday’s vote, Sen. Mike Padden, who opposed the bill, expressed concern about the speed of the approval process. “I have some concerns about the bill itself, but I also have concerns about not really being able to verify it properly,” he said.
Representative Debra Entenman, the only Democrat to vote against the bill in the Washington House of Representatives, said in a statement after it passed the Senate that “this bill demands too much of the state, delivers too little. to drivers and increases transportation costs for my constituents, who often rely on ride-sharing companies due to inadequate public transit options.
Labor advocates worried that other states would try to replicate the legislation. “I hope Governor Inslee will seek additional analysis of its potential impact,” said Terri Gerstein, labor rights attorney in the Labor and Work Life program at Harvard Law School. “I urge other states not to use this superficial bill or public process as a model.”