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Lyft and Uber Drivers in S.F., L.A. Take to Streets in Push for Higher Wages

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Kung Feng, of Jobs with Justice San Francisco, addresses a group of Lyft drivers as they demonstrate outside the Omni Hotel during a one-day strike on Mon., March 25, 2019. “Lyft is in our town and we’re here in solidarity," he said. "They have to pay their fair share." (Olivia Obineme/KQED)

Protesting pay cuts, a small group of Lyft drivers and their supporters demonstrated on Monday in front of the Omni Hotel in downtown San Francisco, where executives of the ride-hailing company were reportedly courting investors in the run-up to their initial public offering.

"San Francisco's about to get a bunch more millionaires, while the drivers who are out there making these executives rich are getting their wages cut," said Rebecca Stack-Martinez, a Lyft and Uber driver and organizer with Gig Workers Rising.

Drivers of both Lyft and Uber, which are soon expected to become publicly traded companies, say their compensation has steadily declined as both ride-hailing giants take an increasingly large chunk of profits form each ride. With Lyft expected to go public as early as this week, drivers say they're particularly concerned that the company will cut wages even further, amid pressure from investors to increase revenue.

A growing number of drivers complain that they're having an increasingly hard time making a living behind the wheel, particularly with the high cost of gas and maintenance expenses factored in.

Lyft drivers marching for higher wages in downtown San Francisco during a one-day strike on Mon., March 25.
Lyft drivers marching for higher wages in downtown San Francisco during a one-day strike on Mon., March 25. (Olivia Obineme/KQED)

Also on Monday, hundreds of ride-hailing drivers in greater Los Angeles staged a one-day strike, logging off the app and picketing outside of Uber's suburban L.A. office.

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Organized by Rideshare Drivers United, the strike was prompted by Uber's announcement last week that it was cutting drivers' per mile pay from 80 cents to 60 cents in Los Angeles County and parts of Orange County. The group is pressuring ride-hailing companies to increase driver pay while capping their commission at 10 percent. The group also wants to organize drivers without fear of retaliation and negotiate on their behalf.

Drivers for both companies are considered independent contractors, which makes them effectively self-employed. As such, they're ineligible for workers compensation and not subject to minimum wage requirements. They're also not part of any formal labor union.

Lyft, which has tried to paint itself as a more worker-friendly alternative to Uber, said that its drivers get the benefit of complete flexibility.

"The vast majority of drivers use Lyft as a temporary source of extra money," Lyft said in a statement. "In fact, 91 percent drive fewer than 20 hours a week and many use Lyft as a supplemental option in addition to full-time work. We are always open to conversations around how we can make Lyft better for drivers, but what we hear from the majority is that this is a flexible option that works for them.”

Valentina Tulau, a mother of five, started driving for Lyft in 2016, and said she started working for the rideshare company because of the 'flexibility' the work provided her to make time for her children. "They call us their 'driver partners' but are we really? I don’t think so," she said. "We are not in their meetings discussing pay."
Valentina Tulau, a mother of five, started driving for Lyft in 2016 because of the "flexibility" it gave her to care for her children. "They call us their 'driver partners.' But are we really? I don’t think so," she said. (Olivia Obineme/KQED)

But protestors at Monday's rally in San Francisco say the company is grossly underestimating the number of drivers who are relying on these gigs as their primary income.

"Lyft is in our town and we’re here in solidarity," said Kung Feng, head of Jobs with Justice San Francisco, which helped organize Monday's rally in San Francisco. "They have to pay their fair share."

KCRW's Saul Gonzalez contributed to this report.

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