Rideshare driver protections start Jan. 1 in Washington

By COLIN STAUB

Regulations improving work conditions for Uber and Lyft drivers will take effect Jan. 1 throughout Washington state. They include minimum per-minute, per-mile and per-trip rates drivers must be paid; paid sick leave; workers compensation; and just-cause employment protection.

The changes were adopted by state lawmakers in the 2022 legislative session, through House Bill 2076. Beginning Jan. 1, minimum rates for rideshare trips will be set by state law:

  • For trips beginning in Seattle: $5.62 per trip; or $0.64 per minute and $1.50 per mile, whichever is higher.
  • For trips beginning and ending outside Seattle: $3.26 per trip; or $0.37 per minute and $1.27 per mile, whichever is higher.

Drivers will also receive a minimum of one hour of paid sick time per 40 hours worked, and they can start using sick time after recording at least 90 hours on the job. Additionally, the rideshare employer will need to provide workers’ compensation coverage for drivers, though it’s only applicable during specific times on the job. Drivers will be covered from the moment they’re dispatched to a ride, to the moment that ride ends or is canceled. When drivers are not actively providing a ride or en route to pick up a passenger, they won’t be covered.

Another change offers protection against management retaliation. Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is contracting with the Drivers Union, a Teamsters Local 117 affiliate representing rideshare drivers, to operate a “Driver Resource Center.” According to L&I, the organization will support drivers in resolving disputes related to account deactivations. HB 2076 requires rideshare companies to collect a new $0.15 per trip fee to fund the resource center.

Backdrop: a union battle

The Drivers Union first formed as the App-Based Drivers Association in 2015, after the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance granting rideshare drivers the right to unionize. Uber and Lyft fought that ordinance in court for years, but eventually the companies and Local 117 collaborated on House Bill 2076. While the new law brings substantial benefits for workers, it also allows the rideshare companies to continue classifying them as “independent contractors” rather than “employees.” That’s an important distinction, because independent contractors are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, so they don’t have the same federally-protected union rights as “employees.” They also aren’t covered by typical wage and hour laws or other standard workplace protections.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a pro-labor think tank in Washington, D.C., voiced strong opposition to HB 2076. EPI acknowledged that it includes improvements for drivers, but said it gives them a “second-class status.” The bill “declares ride share drivers ‘non-employees’ for purposes of minimum wage and overtime, paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, long-term care, and unemployment insurance—depriving them of essential protections and allowing platform companies to avoid payments to public tax and social insurance programs,” EPI wrote in a letter to lawmakers. 

EPI said bills like HB 2076 would undoubtedly be pursued in other states, and the Washington legislation would become a precedent.

Still, the Local 117-affiliated Drivers Union, which advocated for the new protections, celebrated the changes, saying they give Washington the highest statewide labor standards for Uber and Lyft drivers anywhere in the country.

The changes do not apply to food service delivery workers operating through similar gig-work platforms like DoorDash or GrubHub.

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