Uber and Lyft drivers join day-long strike over working conditions
Hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers have joined other app-based workers across the US for a day-long strike to protest against poor working conditions and demand the right to organize.
The workers are calling for better wages and congressional support of the Pro Act, a bill that would provide protections for workers who attempt to unionize, including members of the gig economy. The bill has stalled indefinitely after passing in the US House in March.
“App-based workers are fed up with exploitation from big tech companies,” said Eve Aruguete a driver from Oakland and member of organizing group Rideshare Drivers United. “Misclassification is like concrete, keeping us underground. The Pro Act is the jackhammer that will break that concrete apart, allowing app-based workers to organize.”
The strike began at midnight on Wednesday with workers in California, Boston, Las Vegas, Denver and Austin refusing to take orders. Rallies took place across several cities.
Hundreds of workers rallied outside of Los Angeles international airport and at Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, where drivers blocked the street with cars emblazoned with slogans such as “strike for dignity” and “Uber and Lyft are driving us into poverty”.
On the ground below Uber’s towering headquarters in San Francisco’s South Beach neighborhood, speakers at the rally underscored how the pandemic benefited white-collar Uber employees while thousands of drivers were left without work.
“Without drivers, there is no Uber – without drivers, there is no Lyft,” said Eddy Hernandez, formerly a senior software engineer at Uber who quit because he disagreed with how the company treated drivers.
“Tech workers and drivers need to come together and demand the end to the second-class employment status that restricts workers from having the fair pay and dignity only some are afforded,” he added.
Erica Mighetto, who has driven for Lyft for four years and for Uber since 2019, said at the protest in San Francisco that workers fear for their livelihoods as some pandemic-related unemployment benefits are set to run out in September.
“We want to get out ahead of that devastation and let our voices be heard,” she said. “We need protections – we need the right to organize.”
The strike comes as Uber and Lyft hike prices amid a record driver shortage. That shortage has been driven by a “silent strike”, said Brian Dolber, an organizer and communications professor, as drivers refuse to return to a job they see as exploitative.
“This is drivers fighting back and saying they are not going to be second-class workers,” Dolber said. “They are saying they cannot continue to work under the forms of inequality we have seen during the pandemic.”
In 2020, the number of Uber rides decreased by 80% in some areas, leaving hundreds of thousands of drivers without work, according to a survey from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Jobs With Justice San Francisco. Some 37% of respondents said they had lost 100% of their income, while another 19% had lost more than 75% of their income.
But as vaccinations increased and demand bounced back, many drivers refused to return to their work behind the wheel, said Daniel Russell, a driver for Uber and Lyft for the past four years and an organizer with Rideshare Drivers United.
“The pandemic really underscored for us our vulnerability when the market dried up,” he said. “Now is the time to take action.”
A spokesman from Lyft told the Guardian that as vaccines had rolled out, it had begun to see the demand for rides outpace drivers but had been adding more drivers in recent weeks. It declined to provide any additional comment on the protests.
The strike originally focused on workers in California, where an industry-backed bill called Proposition 22 went into effect in early 2021, exempting some major tech firms from fully complying with labor laws. Under Prop 22, gig companies can continue to be classify workers as contractors, without access to employee rights such as minimum wage, unemployment benefits, health insurance and collective bargaining.
Organizers say in the months since Prop 22 passed, Uber and Lyft have raised prices for riders while decreasing the portion of the fare drivers receive. Uber did not immediately respond to request for comment. Lyft denied that claim.
“They promised us flexibility, greater control and greater transparency,” said driver Carlos Pelayo. “But since Prop 22 passed, I have less control over where I drive, who I pick up, and how much I make. Prop 22 was the most expensive lie ever told to California voters.”
Organizers say the Pro Act can right some of the failures of Prop 22 but requires more support from Senate Democrats. If passed, it would make it more difficult for gig economy firms to classify workers as independent contractors and allow Uber and Lyft drivers to join together to collectively bargain.
“Drivers need the Pro Act because it allows us to form a union and organization that looks out on our behalf and ensures our safety and fair pay,” said Russell, who drives in the Los Angeles area. “We need to be able to have a say.”