What do you do when your rights and life come under attack? You stand up and fight back, and that’s exactly what members of the Mobile Workers Alliance (MWA) are doing.
On March 11th, dozens and dozens of Lyft and Uber drivers participated in preventive self-defense classes organized by MWA drivers for drivers in the Los Angeles area. The classes were spearheaded following the reports of rampant violence towards Uber and Lyft drivers, including the violent attack and robbery of MWA member Manuel Ramos in February.
“I was transporting 4 passengers on the freeway when I was attacked by a passenger in the backseat,” said Manuel Ramos. “This attack came out of nowhere and could have caused a really bad accident on the freeway. Thank god I was able to pull over into a gas station and safely get out of the car to call for help,” he added. “When I returned to my vehicle, I noticed that my family’s rent money was missing from the glove compartment.”
A shaken-up Ramos went on leave for three days without pay, despite being attacked on the job. What did Uber do for Ramos? Absolutely nothing with a lasting impact. The passenger can still use the app, but will never be paired with Manuel. For Manuel and his fellow drivers, that’s simply not enough.
“At first I was angry with the passengers that robbed me,” Manuel adds. “Now I’m equally angry with Lyft because they simply don’t care about drivers’ well-being, they only care about their profits. That’s why we’re taking up these self-defense classes. We refuse to be victims.”
Because both Uber and Lyft refuse to comply with California labor laws and properly classify drivers as employees, drivers work without proper workplace safety protections and run the risk of being attacked without adequate recourse like it happened to Ramos.
Like Ramos says, drivers are learning to defend themselves from violent passengers and the Silicon Valley companies that punch them down by denying them their labor rights.
“Today, we learned to defend ourselves from people who try to harm us in our cars and from the companies that abuse and exploit us,” said Uber driver and MWA leader Linda Valdivia.
At the end of the classes, four in-cabin cameras were raffled amongst the self-defense class participants. The drivers went back on the job well-equipped to fend off any attack, and committed to continue standing their ground in their fight to be classified correctly and win a union.
“I hope that we all feel a little more empowered today,” added driver James Wiest at the end of the self-defense classes. “Not just from the lessons the instructor taught us, but because we learned them together.”
“There is power in a union and there is power in working people standing together,” he added.