A group of company drivers gathered at Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco on Tuesday, protesting against companies using improper means to oppose the AB5 bill protecting their work benefits. Omar has been a driver for Uber for six years, but Uber has reduced the rate of payment to drivers year after year, and now has to work longer, but earn less.
Dozens of Uber and Lyft drivers held a demonstration Wednesday morning outside Lyft’s hub in downtown Los Angeles, where they called for improved working conditions, a $30-an-hour wage and workers’ rights. The proposed California Assembly Bill 5 would expand ride-share drivers’ rights and protections by making it more difficult for such companies to classify drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.
Uber and Lyft really, really don’t want their drivers to be company employees. Both ride-hailing companies have launched an aggressive public campaign to escape California’s crackdown on the gig economy. In the past two weeks, they’ve published an op-ed in the San Fransisco Chronicle and are now enlisting drivers and lobbyists to help weaken AB 5, a bill that would make it harder for companies to label workers as independent contractors instead of employees — a common practice that has allowed businesses to skirt state and federal labor laws.
As Lyft and Uber launched their Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), drivers protested not only their poor pay and working conditions, but also the many threats to their safety. While several news outlets have covered the threats to women rideshare passengers, the violence committed against women and non-binary drivers, particularly those that are Indigenous, Black, people of color, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, Two Spirit, disabled, or Muslim, have gone largely ignored.
Fearing a proposed California law that would clarify that drivers for Uber and Lyft are employees, the companies are sending messages to drivers through the apps they use to work asking them to oppose the law. “When I press to go with Uber, I get a notification and the notification says ‘Protect Driver’s Flexibility’,” explained Al Aloudi, a driver with both Uber and Lyft for eight years. He says the in-app notifications are usually about important issues like money or safety, so drivers check them regularly. (The companies send less urgent messages to drivers’ email.)
On-demand workers in the US are rising up against the companies they work for — using the platforms themselves to do it. On Saturday, thousands of Postmates workers plan to manipulate the on-demand delivery app for better pay by refusing jobs that aren’t in “blitz mode,” a feature that allows Postmates to increase pricing when demand for deliveries exceeds supply. It’s the latest example of on-demand workers leveraging the tools they have, developed by the companies they contract for, to fight back against low wages.
A lengthy article by transportation industry consultant Hubert Horan in the journal American Affairs outlines a series of perceived flaws in Uber’s business model. One of the most startling findings is that most of Uber’s margin improvements since 2015 can be explained by cuts in driver take-home pay — not by increased efficiency.
Despite a healthy economy and growing labor force, 3 out of every 10 American workers who have taken on a side hustle say they need that second job to simply make ends meet. That’s according to Bankrate.com’s latest Side Hustle Survey of 2,550 full-time and part-time working adults conducted online in early May. “Though the economy is strong, many Americans are finding it necessary to work on the side to make ends meet,” said Amanda Dixon, an analyst for the personal finance website.
Uber’s upcoming initial public offering may be one of the biggest in history, with the ride-hailing company expected to raise up to US$9 billion. That’s good news for its early investors and executives, who could reap $1.3 billion from the IPO. For the potentially hundreds of thousands of drivers who do it as their largest or main source of income? Not so much. That may be why some of them plan to go on strike in seven U.S. cities for 12 hours on May 8.
California just took a major step in rewriting the rules of the gig economy. The state Assembly passed a bill Wednesday that would make it harder for companies to label workers as independent contractors instead of employees, a common practice that has allowed businesses to skirt state and federal labor laws. The bill will now go to the state Senate. Hundreds of thousands of independent contractors in California, ranging from Uber and Amazon drivers to manicurists and exotic dancers, would likely become employees under the bill.
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