Thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers are preparing to strike in cities across the United States and Britain on Wednesday, May 8 ahead of Uber’s IPO.
In the US, many participating drivers will turn off their apps starting in the morning commute hours of 7-9 am, CNN reports. Money reports Los Angeles, San Diego, and Boston drivers will stage 24-hour long strikes, while in Atlanta and San Francisco the action will last for 12 hours. New York City-based drivers will log out for two hours during the morning rush. Drivers in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and elsewhere will hold solidarity protests.
“Enough is enough,” Felipe Martinez, a Boston Uber driver who is helping organize the protest there, told Money. “It’s on the backs of the drivers that this company has grown, and we need to be heard.”
Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s 8.6 percent stake in the company could be valued at close to $8 billion. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, an early Uber investor who put up $3 million, may reap a $400 million windfall from the IPO. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi may be $100 million richer thanks to stock options; this on top of his $45 million salary.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a 21,000-member union of taxi, rideshare, corporate black car and other livery drivers, says its workers are demanding fewer driver deactivations, an end to upfront pricing, and a cap on the per-fare commission taken by ride-hail companies. “The gig economy is all about exploiting workers by taking away our rights,” alliance member and longtime Uber driver Sonam Lama told The Verge. “It has to stop.”
In the UK, drivers London, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Glasgow — and possibly other locations — will participate in the work stoppage for nine hours, from 7 am to 4 pm. The Independent reports the UK drivers are members of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB).
Uber investors, founders and executives stand to make billions of dollars overnight when the company goes public on Friday. Meanwhile, drivers often struggle to make minimum wage when the cost of vehicle payments, fuel, auto maintenance, insurance and tickets are taken into account.
IWGB says Uber’s $90 billion valuation is based on an unsustainable business model built on “worker exploitation, tax avoidance and regulatory arbitrage.” James Farrar, Chair of the United Private Hire Drivers branch of the IWGB, called Uber’s business practices “abusive.”
“It is the drivers who have created this extraordinary wealth but they continue to be denied even the most basic workplace rights,” Farrar told the Independent. “We call on the public not to cross the digital picket line on 8 May but to stand in solidarity with impoverished drivers across the world who have made Uber so successful.”
In addition to logging off, drivers will hold protest rallies in many of the participating cities.
In the United States, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) expressed his support for rideshare drivers, tweeting “Uber says it can’t pay its drivers more money, but rewarded its CEO with nearly $50 million last year. People who work for multibillion-dollar companies should not have to work 70 or 80 hours a week to get by.” Shahid Buttar, who is running to unseat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in San Francisco, is among the other progressive politicians who have expressed support for the strike.
Uber and Lyft content that their driver “partners” are independent contractors and thus not subject to the protections, benefits and minimum wage guarantees that businesses must provide their employees. However, Uber knows it has a driver problem — in its pre-IPO filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company said driver discontent will likely increase as it spends less money on driver bonuses and incentives in order to maximize shareholder return.
“Further, we are investing in our autonomous vehicle strategy, which may add to driver dissatisfaction over time, as it may reduce the need for drivers,” the filing predicted.
Despite all this, both Uber and Lyft say they are committed to their drivers, who Uber calls “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,” a company spokesperson told Money.
Uber points to one-time bonus payments, which range from $100 to $20,000, to longtime drivers ahead of the IPO, as proof of its driver commitment. In order to qualify for the $20,000 bonus, drivers must have completed at least 30,000 rides. Drivers who have completed 2,500 trips get about 4 cents a trip, or a $100 payout in total. Drivers who’ve completed 20,000 trips will get about 50 cents a trip, or a $10,000 payout. Uber said it is also allocating three percent of its initial share offering for qualifying drivers who wish to purchase stock.
The company also touted its Uber Pro program, which confers auto maintenance discounts and slightly higher incentive bonuses to qualifying drivers. Many drivers, however, say it is extremely difficult if not impossible for them to meet Uber Pro requirements.