Uber and Lyft Are More Than “Just a Gig”

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Despite the difficulties posed by a highly dispersed and decentralized workforce, Uber drivers have grabbed the attention of CEOs and politicians as they head into the biggest test yet for ride hailing drivers in the United States. Here, Michelle Dottin, a driver and stewart with the Independent Drivers Union Guild, speaks at a rally outside Uber and Lyft offices in New York, calling for "fair pay for all drivers."

Ten years after its launch, Uber is expanding its investor pool by going public. The rideshare company is filing an initial public offering on Friday after its main competitor, Lyft, filed an IPO in March. Unsurprisingly, the drivers who have built the company into an empire valued at over $80 billion don’t share investors’ enthusiasm for publicly traded options. They plan to stage work stoppages across the country.

Drivers in eight cities—Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.—won’t pick up rides from the Uber app for a full 24 hours, starting Wednesday morning. Other cities are joining in solidarity: San Francisco and Atlanta will be on strike for 12 hours; drivers in three cities in the United Kingdom won’t accept rides for nine hours; and New York will boycott Uber from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

The coalition of advocacy groups organizing for a living wage, like the L.A.-based Rideshare Drivers United and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, have garnered support from vocal labor leaders including the AFL-CIO, Teamsters, and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Across the country, drivers are demanding higher wages and benefits if they are to continue work in an industry that has come to be defined by the financial precarity of its employees.

Despite its claim that drivers are the backbone of the company, Uber has yet to pay its employees a living and just wage. Instead, the ridesharecompany defines (and treats) its employees as “independent contractors,” giving them far fewer rights and protections than standard, full-time employees. Under this classification, drivers can’t sue for discrimination, receive workers’ compensation, benefit from a minimum wage, or form a union.

The wages of Uber drivers, according to the Economic Policy Institute, average $9.41 per hour after accounting for vehicle expenses, employee bonuses, commissions, and fees. That’s less than a third of what the average private-sector worker earns and about $6 short of the hourly rate for the service industry. Uber isn’t making a profit, and its drivers are paying the price. In March, the company cut the per-mile rate in San Francisco by 25 percent, from $0.80 to $0.60.

In New York, however, drivers have successfully organized for citywide regulation that guarantees a minimum rate of $28 per hour (or $17 after expenses). That’s $7 more per hour than any other city in the country. The impetus for the NYC minimum? A wave of driver suicides prompted by plummeting fares and a desert of alternate job options. The NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission passed a minimum wage bill for Uber and Lyft drivers last year, with drivers seeing close to $10,000 more annually thanks to the minimum rates that Uber and Lyft are now required to pay out. Unlike Uber, it seems New York is actually listening to its workers.

Despite the difficulties posed by a highly dispersed and decentralized workforce, Uber drivers have grabbed the attention of CEOs and politicians as they head into the biggest test yet for ride hailing drivers in the United States.

Uber is offering bonuses of up to $40,000 to its most loyal drivers once it goes public. But boycotters and strikers know that lump sum won’t solve the problem. As engines across the country shut down for the strike, the move for drivers’ rights is just revving up.

You may also like