Uber and Lyft Drivers Are Striking, Calling on Passengers to Boycott

Jeff Terry holds a sign during a protest in front of Uber headquarters in San Francisco on May 8, 2019. He has been driving for Uber for over three years and thinks the ride-hailing concept is genius, but that it has been turned into a monster. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

Updated 2 p.m.

Ahead of Uber's initial public offering, drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride-service companies plan to strike, turning off the apps as they flex their collective muscles to say: What about us?

Drivers in 10 cities across the country are taking action on Wednesday to draw attention to what they say are decreasing wages for drivers and a distressing lack of job security — and some are calling on passengers to temporarily boycott the ride-hailing services, too.

About 200 drivers and supporters protested outside Uber headquarters in San Francisco, carrying signs and chanting, “Drivers united will never be defeated.” Passing drivers honked their horns in support before protesters spilled onto Market Street, blocking traffic.

The Bay Area-based group Gig Workers Rising, which describes itself as "a community of app and platform workers coming together to improve our work and livelihoods," called for a 12-hour "app shut-off" for drivers and a strike in San Francisco starting at noon.

Oakland resident Stephen Phillips, who has driven for Uber and Lyft for four years, turned his app off and held a sign in front of Uber headquarters that said, “Our actual earnings are half what they were 4 years ago.”

He said drivers are flocking to San Francisco for work.

“Drivers are coming from all over the state, from Modesto, Sacramento, L.A., San Diego," Phillips said. "And they’re driving here and they’re sleeping in their cars because they can make so much more money here than they can where they come from. Many, many, many of them are very aware the companies have been treating us unfairly. There’s a very big awareness of that.”

Uber driver Gabriel Ets-Hokin said the real danger with the company is that it built its business by fragmenting workers and slashing their pay below livable rates.

“What will society look like when this model is exported to other industries?” he asked.

Erica Mighetto said she drives to San Francisco from Sacramento to try to make money driving for Lyft. She took the job because her dad has diabetes and she‘s the primary caregiver. But she said she now has to drive 60 hours a week to pay the bills.

Among the drivers' demands in Los Angeles are a 10% cap on commissions taken by Uber and Lyft, hourly minimum pay and fare breakdowns on passenger receipts that show the companies' take. New York drivers are demanding an end to sudden account deactivations and the right to appeal through the courts.

The strike was spearheaded by Rideshare Drivers United, a Los Angeles-based association of drivers. And the group is asking for the support of would-be passengers.

"We ask that the public support drivers in their struggle for fair wages and our Drivers bill of rights," spokesman Brian Dolber said in an email to NPR. "We are calling for community standards that will ensure that Uber and Lyft do not create needless traffic and pollution. By boycotting Uber/Lyft for 24 hours, passengers can show that they stand with RDU in our fight for a rideshare industry that truly serves Angelenos."

When companies go public, it usually means big money for executives and sometimes nice payouts for employees. San Francisco's housing market has been bracing for the thousands of newly minted millionaires spawned by four major IPOs this spring.

Uber's valuation could be as high as $91 billion when trading begins, which would place it among the top three most valuable firms to ever debut on a U.S. exchange. Co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick's stake may be worth as much as $5.9 billion.

But the IPO won't be life-changing for most drivers, who Uber insists are independent contractors, not employees. Some drivers will receive one-time bonuses according to their loyalty: Those who completed more than 2,500 trips before April 7 and at least one this year are eligible for a bonus, ranging from $100 for those drivers with 2,500 completed trips to $40,000 for 40,000 completed trips. U.S. drivers can use that bonus to buy up to $10,000 in stock in the company at the IPO price.

That may not end up being a great deal if Lyft's IPO is any indication: Its shares are down about 20% since the initial offering. Some drivers also went on strike before Lyft went public in March.

Strikes or rallies are also planned in Chicago, Washington, Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Diego and Stamford, Connecticut. On Twitter, organizers are using the hashtags #StrikeUberLyft and #AppsOffMay8 to build momentum.

This strike is taking different forms in different cities, but in the L.A. metro area, the strike will last for 24 hours, with a picket line at Los Angeles International Airport and a noon rally. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance called for a rush-hour strike, during which drivers will turn off the Uber, Lyft, Juno and Via apps from 7 to 9 a.m., and then rally outside Uber and Lyft headquarters in Long Island City.

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"Uber/Lyft going public on the stock market will make billionaires of Uber and Lyft bosses while drivers struggle in poverty and the companies destroy the livelihoods of drivers in every sector," the New York drivers' organization says in its call to action.

For those who often use ride-hailing apps and want to support the strike, today may mean a commute by public transit, a cab or bicycle. At D.C.-area airports, officials arranged for extra cabs and said they always encourage passengers to consider taking the Metro rail system or the bus, The Washington Post reported.

In a statement to Post, Uber said 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. 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."

KQED's Sam Harnett and Stephanie Lister contributed to this post.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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