Ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft are nearing a head-on collision with elected leaders in the streets of Seattle.
The City Council became the first in the nation to pass an ordinance allowing the on-demand drivers to join a union. While pushing back against that vote, Uber and Lyft are now suing the city over a different matter.
The city attorney’s office wants to release information to the public such as locations showing where Uber and Lyft passengers are picked up and dropped off, arguing they’re regulating app-based companies the same as taxi cabs.
“At the end of the day, they do the same thing, they drive people from point A to point B,” said Michael Ryan, an assistant city attorney. “It’s just the method by which one acquires the ride that differentiates them.”
But the companies say the information in question constitutes sensitive trade secrets, and releasing it could damage their businesses.
The battle in Seattle, meanwhile, is just one example of a debate that’s taking place across the country.
In June, Uber and Lyft pulled out of the Austin, Texas, market over a mandate that all drivers pass a fingerprint background check. The companies already do background checks and say fingerprinting is unnecessary and potentially unfair to drivers who had arrests dating back years.
Leaving Austin took work away from 10,000 app-based drivers.
Amid the regulatory push to treat the companies like the taxi industry, Uber and Lyft contend they’re really technology companies that simply created the largest platforms in the growing gig economy. They provide a way for drivers to make an income using their cars and for riders to save time and money.
One of those drivers, Deborah Jeffs, drives for Uber 10 hours per week earning money to pad her vacation fund.
A retired nurse, Jeffs used to belong to a union and wants no part of paying dues again. She resents the Teamsters and taxi cab companies for pushing a union vote, a system she says would drive her off the road.
“I think in a capitalist market, competition is nice and important,” Jeffs said. “So if the taxi cabs want to compete with Uber and Lyft, why don’t they provide some of the same services, or why aren’t they nicer?”
The upcoming union vote in Seattle is contentious in large part because not all drivers will have a say -- but if the union is approved, all drivers will have to join.
Only drivers who have given 52 rides over the last three months will get a vote. That leaves several thousand without a voice.
In a statement, Lyft called the proposal undemocratic.
City Council members turned down requests from Fox News for comment.