Uber and Lyft drivers plan to strike to protest low wages

Image: Uber
An Uber car drives through LaGuardia Airport in New York on March 15, 2017. Copyright Seth Wenig AP file
By Phil McCausland with NBC News Tech and Science News
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"Uber's corporate owners are set to make billions, all while drivers are left in poverty and go bankrupt," one strike organizer said.


New York City commuters will have a new challenge on their way to work Wednesday: Drivers for ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft plan to turn off their apps to bring attention to employees' low pay among several other labor concerns.

The strike is timed to coincide with Uber's IPO filing. The flashiest new tech stock to hit the market, Uber is expected to be valued at more than $80 billion when it finally goes public at the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

But drivers argue that the road traveled by companies like Uber and Lyft ran across the backs of employees, leaving them with low wages and without access to full-time employment benefits despite working long hours.

The drivers plan to strike for two hours in New York during Wednesday's morning rush hour — 7 to 9 a.m. — and plan to rally outside Uber and Lyft's headquarters in Queens in the afternoon to share their demands for job security, a livable wage and greater fare regulations, according to New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

Drivers across the country as well as London ride-hailing employees are also expected to join the protest.

"Wall Street investors are telling Uber and Lyft to cut down on driver income, stop incentives and go faster to Driverless Cars," NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said in a statement. "Uber and Lyft wrote in their S1 filings that they think they pay drivers too much already. With the IPO, Uber's corporate owners are set to make billions, all while drivers are left in poverty and go bankrupt."

Uber and Lyft drivers in Los Angeles held a 25-hour strike in March to protest their working conditions as well as wage cuts. The action was pursued after Uber announced plans to cut 25 percent in drivers' pay per mile in Los Angeles and parts of Orange County.

It is fairly clear that Uber and Lyft, both losing billions of dollars annually, are struggling to make ends meet. They both have said they would suffer financially if they offered their employees full-time benefits and higher wages.

Uber openly stated in its IPO that its "business would be adversely affected if Drivers were classified as employees instead of independent contractors." Lyft said in its own filing that if the "contractor classification of drivers that use our platform is challenged, there may be adverse business, financial, tax, legal and other consequences."

Still, ride-sharing drivers say that Uber executives are set to make a bundle once the company's stock hits the market Friday, while the employees have only watched their wages sink.

But that claim is rejected by both Uber and Lyft, the latter stating that drivers' wages have increased over the past two years and earned them more than $10 billion on the ride-sharing platform.

Uber, meanwhile, stated that it is continuing to make the work environment for its employees better — an effort it says will continue after the IPO filing.

"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," the company said in a statement. "Whether it's more consistent earnings, stronger insurance protection or fully-funded four-year degrees for drivers or their families, we'll continue to improve the experience for and with drivers."

Nevertheless, members of NYTWA who plan to strike Wednesday called Uber a bad actor of the gig economy. They have little faith in the tech giant to do right by their drivers.

"We want Uber to answer to us, not to investors," said Sonam Lama, an Uber driver since 2015. "The gig economy is all about exploiting workers by taking away our rights. It has to stop. Uber is the worst actor in the gig economy."

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