Washington’s Senate unanimously passed a bill this week that would make the state the first in the nation to grant ride-hail drivers the right to paid family and medical leave.
The bill, HB 1570, builds on driver rights won in 2022’s Expand Fairness Act, which set a high statewide wage floor for drivers and established a right to protections against unjustified deactivation, worker’s compensation insurance and paid sick time.
The win in Washington comes a month after drivers in California were dealt a blow when the state upheld Proposition 22, the ballot measure passed in November 2020 that classified Uber and Lyft drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. A lower court had previously ruled Prop 22 unconstitutional.
Washington’s ruling could have ripple effects in other states fighting to grant gig workers employment benefits.
“Today is a landmark in the fight for worker rights nationwide” said Peter Kuel, president of Drivers Union, an association of ride-hail drivers, in a statement. Kuel started driving for Uber and Lyft in 2014. “In the State of Washington, drivers must no longer choose between caring for unwell loved ones and putting food on the table. This victory is a demonstration of what drivers can achieve when they organize together to fight for the rights that every worker deserves.”
The bill will head to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk to be signed into law. Access to the program is expected to come online for drivers in July 2024. It’ll grant ride-hail drivers access to the same program as other workers in the state, which offers up to 12 weeks of paid leave if a serious health condition prevents them from working or if they need to take time off to care for a family member or a new child.
The cost of a driver’s premiums for the program will be fully paid by the app-based companies, like Uber and Lyft, for which the driver works, according to the union. It’s not clear how the ride-hail companies intend to fund the program or whether they’ll increase rider fares in Washington to compensate.
Washington has more than 30,000 Uber and Lyft drivers, most of whom are immigrants and people of color, according to a 2022 study. The report also found that about a third of drivers and their families rely on food stamps in King County, with a quarter living in federal poverty.
“This is another historic win for drivers in Washington state and is a continuation of the progress made last year with the passage of HB 2076, first-in-the-nation legislation to provide drivers in Washington with numerous benefits,” said Lyft in a statement. “HB 1570 would add paid family medical leave and unemployment insurance benefits to that list. These new benefits and protections are the result of legislators, app-based companies, and labor organizations listening to drivers and working together.
Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.