Uber to pay $3.4M in settlement for 15,000 Seattle drivers’ unpaid sick depart, again wages

Uber sick leave settlement announced. Photo by Teamsters Local 117

Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards reached a $3.4 million settlement with Uber to resolve claims for back wages and unpaid sick leave. The money, the labor standard’s office said, will cover unpaid claims from 15,000 local Uber drivers.  

“I am so grateful to have advocates standing up for driver rights,” Uber driver Jamel Jara said in a statement issued by the labor standards office. Jara will receive compensation under the agreement. “Having access to paid sick days during this pandemic means we can keep our customers and our families safe and healthy.” 

The settlement comes under the city’s Paid Sick and Safe Time for Gig Workers Ordinance, the 2012 regulation that requires Seattle employers to fund sick days for staff at the rate of one day for every 30 calendar days worked. Since its initial approval, the labor standards office has expanded the eligible employees’ group to include gig workers and it added to the list of acceptable reasons to take accrued leave.

Harry Hartfield, an Uber spokesperson, said the settlement with the city shows that the transportation company is committed to meeting improved standards for its workers and that its partnership with the labor standards office is working. 

“When Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time for Gig Workers Ordinance was passed last summer, we worked over a few weeks to build an entirely new payment system to comply with the law in a timely manner,” he said.

“While the vast majority of workers claimed their Paid Sick and Safe Time without an issue, we’re grateful that the Office of Labor Standards worked in partnership with us as we improved our systems to ensure accurate and prompt payments.” 

Uber has 30 days to pay the workers directly. It is the largest settlement in the history of the six-year-old labor office. Of the settlement, $2.1 million in funding that Uber already had earmarked for driver sick leave. 

At a rally in support of the settlement, city council president and mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez said she is happy about the settlement and she will fight for working people.

“I started my career as a civil rights attorney going after greedy corporations for wage theft, and as Mayor I will make sure we use every means available to claw back stolen wages and stolen time because working people should have the means to take care of, and spend time with, those they love.”

The settlement was fueled, in part, by a larger, decade-long push within Seattle to improve the working conditions for some of the city’s lowest-paid workers, from raising the minimum wage and requiring scheduling standards for service industry employees, to improving safety for hotel staffs and providing sick leave protections for gig workers, including transport and delivery drivers. Last year Seattle became the second city to implement a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers. 

Some of those protections could spread nationally. U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh recently endorsed classifying many gig workers as “employees” deserving of benefits. Walsh was appointed by President Biden. Any such shift in classification could raise costs for contractors-based companies such as Uber.

Joshua Welter, the spokesman for Teamsters Local 117, called the deal great for labor and further evidence that City of Seattle cares about workers. “This is an amazing victory for workers,” he said. “Seattle has been on the cutting edge work worker protections.”

Seattle is the only city in the country that ​requires sick pay for Uber and other gig economy drivers, he said. “(Seattle) is leading the nation in worker protections.”

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