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Judge green-lights Instacart legal challenge against Seattle city gig worker hazard pay law

Photo credit: Belchenko

A Seattle judge has given the go ahead for a gig worker hazard pay lawsuit to proceed against the City of Seattle.

Filed by app-based food delivery service Instacart and the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA), the lawsuit targets legislation the Seattle city council passed last summer aimed at helping drivers on third-party food delivery apps like Postmates, Uber Eats and Grubhub earn extra pay during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hazard pay legislation entitles these drivers to an extra $2.50 per order for the duration of the city’s coronavirus-related state of emergency, while barring the apps from passing the costs onto customers or reducing their drivers’ pay existing rates.

On March 26, the judge allowed Instacart and WFIA’s lawsuit to proceed on the basis that the legislation unconstitutionally intrudes into their business decisions and discriminates against food delivery companies since app-based companies that transport people like Uber and Lyft are exempted. However, as Seattle Eater points out, the city passed an ordinance last fall that requires Uber and Lyft to match compensation of their drivers with Seattle’s $16.39 per hour minimum wage.

The City of Seattle has also passed a hazard pay law for grocery workers, giving employees at supermarket chains including QFC, Whole Foods and Safeway an extra $4-per-hour until the city ends the pandemic emergency. That law recently faced legal challenges as well, but on March 18, a judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by Pacific Northwest food industry groups.

“If these types of lawsuits from third-party apps and industry groups find more success, the momentum to address gig worker compensation and protections through any further legislation will likely face added complications,” Seattle Eater noted.

But pressure is coming from both sides. Labor advocacy group Working Washington has urged state lawmakers to raise gig workers’ pay to a minimum of $15 per hour, plus tips while pushing for more transparency in how companies breakdown gig work.

Some of these gig worker protections may end up sticking around long after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I remain interested in ensuring that gig worker protections are considered and debated by the city of Seattle beyond the current civil emergency,” said city council president Lorena González. “Seattle is a city dedicated to ensuring we are a place where business and workers can thrive together and this must mean addressing the working conditions of our gig workers providing a crucial service in food access and more.”


Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us if you have an L&I, unfair pay practices, workers’ comp, injury, or other employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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