Seattle Continues to Delay Vote on New Delivery Driver Pay Law

June 12, 2024


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A gig-worker on a bike with an empty bag searches for a job outside of a restaurant.

The Seattle Times
By David Kroman
Updated June 12, 2024

Two weeks after delaying a vote on a lower pay standard for app-based delivery drivers, the Seattle City Council is yet to signal when it will finally take up the legislation, frustrating parties on both sides of the issue as restaurants, drivers, and app companies find themselves in a state of limbo.

The controversial bill, introduced by council President Sara Nelson this year after repeatedly calling its passage urgent, did not receive a vote at this week’s meeting, guaranteeing a minimum three-week lag.

“I think the perceived lack of urgency and that there hasn’t been a lot of communication about what’s going on now that it’s been a few weeks after when the vote was supposed to take place, that’s the frustrating part,” said Ian Courtnage, CEO of Evergreens restaurants.

Since the beginning of the year, Nelson has called passage of the new standard urgent and a needed reprieve for restaurants grappling with fewer orders. But what once looked like a straightforward path has become considerably more complicated.

One council member is still debating whether to recuse from the vote, one is meeting with the parties who have the most at stake, and so far, Nelson has been silent on when it will come before the full council since postponing the vote previously scheduled for May 28.

She declined to comment Tuesday.

“We were originally hoping this would have been done the first week in May, so we’re getting close to two months behind from our viewpoint,” said Michael Wolfe, executive director of Drive Forward, which supports the proposed bill.

The problem Nelson says she’s trying to solve is a reported decline in the restaurant delivery business since a new, higher minimum wage took effect in January. Although not unanimously, many drivers have reported fielding fewer trips as each delivery has gotten more expensive.

The new bill, Nelson has argued, will spur companies to drop expensive service charges, increase business, and represent an improvement for everyone. The issue is urgent enough for her that it was among the first — and thorniest — pieces of legislation introduced since six new members were sworn in.

The council has already passed the proposed new pay standard out of committee. The bill before the full council lowers both the hourly and per-mile reimbursement for drivers with companies like DoorDash, UberEats, and Instacart. It also changes when driver pay is calculated, from the current model of after every trip to a new model of at the end of the pay period.

Some council members have questioned the rates set by the new bill — particularly the 35-cent-per-mile reimbursement, which is below the IRS standard of 67 cents. Though DoorDash and Instacart have promised to roll back their fees if the law before the council passes as written, they haven’t said what they will do if members raise the pay standards.

Parker Dorrough, spokesperson for DoorDash, confirmed the company would drop its fee if the current version of the bill is passed.

“Despite making this clear to city officials, we have been met with inaction and delays,” Dorrough said.

At the same time, Councilmember Tanya Woo was advised by the city’s ethics director to recuse herself from the vote because her husband and her father-in-law own a restaurant — Kau Kau BBQ — with a DoorDash contract. Woo met with the city’s full ethics commission last week, which gave her a mixed message on whether they agreed she should recuse herself. Following the meeting, Woo said she hadn’t decided what she would do.

The commission could make a formal ruling in July, but many expected the vote to happen before then.

Meanwhile, those who oppose revising the current pay standard have been glad to see some council members open to hearing them out. While Nelson’s meetings around the legislation have been mostly limited to the companies and Drive Forward — which receives funding from the app-based companies — Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth scheduled a meeting for Thursday to meet with the competing parties about the legislation.

In a statement Tuesday, Hollingsworth said she’s been working on “a number of amendments.” She said it’s possible she’ll schedule another meeting to solicit feedback next week.

As the politics swirl behind the scenes, frustration toward the council is building. For those convinced the current standard is bleeding restaurants and delivery drivers, the delay means lost dollars and more endangered restaurants.

“We’re not going to sit down quietly and watch money being thrown away and orders being lost and economic loss happening,” said Marcos Wanless, president and founder of the Seattle Latino Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Courtnage said the Seattle Evergreens locations have seen a 40% and 50% drop in delivery orders since January. Because Evergreens has multiple locations outside Seattle and because delivery service is only about 20% of its business, the company can take the hit. Others, though, are in a trickier spot, he said.

“There are a lot of businesses that are probably smaller and trying to make decisions and understand if there’s any relief on the horizon, and it’s a big deal for them, but they don’t have any visibility to what’s going [on],” he said of the delay.

The looming uncertainty about the legislation is causing headaches for drivers, said Hannah Sabio-Howell, communications director for Working Washington, a labor-backed advocacy group that helped pass the current pay standard.

“Tens of thousands of workers are like, what’s happening?” said Sabio-Howell. “It’s a weird and obscure purgatory we’re in right now. We’d like to be collaborative, and we’d like to be helpful.”

David Kroman: 206-464-3196 or; Seattle Times staff reporter David Kroman covers Seattle City Hall.

Read the original article here.

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