Travel

Uber and Lyft Drivers Are About to Go on Strike Worldwide

Uber
App drivers are organizing. | Tero Vesalainen
App drivers are organizing. | Tero Vesalainen

Drivers for Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services are striking in solidarity with Uber drivers protesting for better working conditions. Drivers plan to log out of their apps between 7am and 9am Eastern time on May 8 -- the day Uber will go public for an estimated valuation that could exceed $90 billion.

The strike will be held in cities across the United Kingdom including London, Glasgow, Birmingham, and Nottingham, as well as US cities including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Uber’s single largest market, New York City. Uber drivers are seeking an end to upfront pricing, a cap on the per-fare commission that goes to the company instead of the drivers, and fewer driver deactivations.

“You’re fired at the press of a button,” Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, told Thrillist. “There’s no notice. And there are studies that have shown that passengers can make complaints that are motivated by racism or chauvinism, and it doesn’t matter. You still get deactivated, and if you get a number of those complaints then you’re fired permanently.”

According to an Uber Securities and Exchange Commission filing released in April, Uber aims to raise more than $10.35 billion in its initial public offering, which would make it one of the largest IPOs of any company to date. Uber is expected to be valued at close to $100 billion. According to the SEC filing, the top five executives at Uber made a combined $143 million in 2018. The highest-paid, chief operating officer Barney Harford, made more than $47.6 million. The people who perform the actual labor that keeps Uber so profitable, though, don’t enjoy nearly so large a share of what they produce. New York City has mandated that Uber drivers make $17.22 per hour after expenses, but drivers in other cities can make less than half that.

“We don’t want the minimum wage to become the ceiling,” Desai said. “As the revenues grow in this industry, drivers can only earn more of it if they remain as commission workers.”

It’s easy to lose track of all the fucked-up things Uber has been up to in recent years, but you might recall that this is not the first time drivers on the app have organized. In 2017, Uber faced heavy backlash following its rollout of upfront pricing -- which allowed it to hike fares and line its pockets with the surplus -- prompted the company to issue an apology to riders in NYC. The same year, the NYTWA went on strike at JFK airport in protest of President Trump’s Muslim ban -- Uber crossed the picket line, inspiring the widely used hashtag #DeleteUber.

“Drivers are at the heart of our service -- we can’t succeed without them -- and thousands of people come into work at Uber every day focused on how to make their experience better, on and off the road,” an Uber representative emailed Thrillist. “Whether it’s more consistent earnings, stronger insurance protections or fully-funded four-year degrees for drivers or their families, we’ll continue working to improve the experience for and with drivers.”

That statement, though, is rather at odds with a couple of illumination passages from the SEC filing:

"... we continue to experience dissatisfaction with our platform from a significant number of Drivers. In particular, as we aim to reduce Driver incentives to improve our financial performance, we expect Driver dissatisfaction will generally increase ... Further, we are investing in our autonomous vehicle strategy, which may add to Driver dissatisfaction over time, as it may reduce the need for Drivers.”

In its response to Thrillist, Uber also highlighted its Driver Appreciation Reward, a one-time cash payment to certain qualifying drivers. “We’ll trade you the one-time cash payment for a lifetime of livable incomes,” Desai said in response. She noted that Uber and Lyft seem to have entered “panic mode” ahead of the strike -- incentivizing passengers by cutting rates or drivers by offering surge pricing.

Uber declined to comment specifically on the protests, but we can get the gist from the SEC filing:

“Driver dissatisfaction has in the past resulted in protests by Drivers, most recently in India, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Such protests have resulted, and any future protests may result, in interruptions to our business. Continued Driver dissatisfaction may also result in a decline in our number of platform users, which would reduce our network liquidity.”

Strikes work.

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Kastalia Medrano is Thrillist's Travel Writer. You can send her travel tips at kmedrano@thrillist.com, and Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.