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Report: Local Democracy "Run Over" by Lyft, Uber

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Drivers for ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft are hitting traffic when they push for more protections, a new report finds. (SounderBruce/Flickr)
Drivers for ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft are hitting traffic when they push for more protections, a new report finds. (SounderBruce/Flickr)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
February 22, 2018

SEATTLE — Ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft have been a big boon for folks trying to get around town, but a new report says these companies are running over local democracy.

The National Employment Law Project's "Uber State Interference" report details how transportation network companies have bought, bullied and bamboozled their way into states. Report co-author Rebecca Smith, senior counsel for the project, said Uber and Lyft have more lobbyists nationwide than Amazon, Microsoft and Walmart combined.

She said one of the companies' favorite tactics for getting around regulations in cities was to tell consumers that cities were trying to ban them from operating.

"In reality, what was happening is that the cities were imposing some reasonable regulation on the companies so that they could fit better into an overall transportation system that the cities have to and do regulate,” Smith explained.

Smith said legislators and city council members across the country told her they felt bullied by the companies. According to the report, Uber spent nearly $75,000 and Lyft spent more than $50,000 on lobbying in Washington state in the first half of 2017.

Ride-sharing companies say they make transportation more efficient and safer, especially by helping to keep people who have been drinking from driving.

The report said Uber and Lyft have been bad for workers too. Because drivers are classified as independent contractors, they aren't entitled to protections as employees, such as a guaranteed minimum wage.

Smith said these companies treat drivers like employees but skirt laws providing them basic safeguards as workers.

"In a highly dangerous occupation, workers are not entitled to workers' compensation if they are injured on the job,” she said. “Workers have no discrimination protections and, as some academics have said, it seems like discrimination is hard-wired into this system with the star-rating system."

Smith said drivers who receive bad ratings can be fired.

In an unprecedented move in 2015, the city of Seattle passed a law allowing drivers for ride-sharing companies to unionize. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has sued the city to stop the law from going into effect, arguing that the National Labor Relations Act excludes independent contractors organizing.

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