Uber And Lyft Drivers Are Striking — And Call On Passengers To Boycott
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / May 8, 2019
Strike organizers timed the action to draw attention to drivers' wage cuts and persistent job insecurity ahead of Uber's IPO on Friday, when the company's valuation may be as high as $91 billion.
Speaker 1: 00:00 A rally is set for this hour at San Diego International for Uber and Lyft drivers who are boycotting work today. The drivers have turned off their ride sharing apps and pledged not to pick up drivers for 24 hours demanding better pay and working conditions. This protest comes only days before the anticipated Uber initial public offering on Wall Street. That IPO is expected to bring the company up to $90 million. Joining me is Tina givens. She was recently an Uber driver and she's a co organizer with ride share drivers United San Diego. That's the group organizing today's strike here. And Tina, welcome to the program.
Speaker 2: 00:40 Thanks so much for having me Maria. And we're excited to be here.
Speaker 1: 00:43 Well you're at the airport for rallies going to get underway. Tell us how many drivers you're expecting.
Speaker 2: 00:49 Um, we're expecting, I'm approximating about a hundred, which for San Diego is a pretty sizable number. We're going to be doing our best to, to educate the passengers as they're coming and going from the airport today. And we're also making sure that we recruit and talk to new drivers. Um, we want to let them know that they're being represented and that we want to amplify their voice and we're out here to support them in case they haven't heard of our group yet.
Speaker 1: 01:12 So what are the main reasons why drivers are striking today?
Speaker 2: 01:16 Well, the reasons are aplenty. So the first one obviously is driver wages. Uh, Uber analyst have both steadily decreased drivers wages over the past few years. They make adjustments to drivers contract all the time without driver's knowledge. Um, they used to pay per mile, now they're paying per minute and Uber is now taking up to 70% of fares from the drivers. We also are out here demanding transparency. There are things that Uber does behind the scenes that are arbitrary and the drivers don't know about such as surge pricing and Uber Pool where what the drivers and what the writers and what Uber or Lyft yet are all completely different.
Speaker 1: 02:01 What does that change in pay pay scale for the drivers actually mean in real terms for over drivers.
Speaker 2: 02:08 So the minimum in California we are making just under minimum wage for driving something up to let's say 18 hours a day. We originally were getting paid around 80 cents per mile. Now we're knocked down to somewhere around 60 cents per mile and it's making a huge difference.
Speaker 1: 02:26 Do you have a list of demands for over?
Speaker 2: 02:29 We do. We want transparency, we want our voices to be heard and we want to be able to have a say and our working conditions. We want driver protection and we want a 10% cap commission from Uber and Lyft
Speaker 1: 02:43 in New York City. They've just enacted a minimum wage for over drivers. I believe it's $17 an hour after expenses. Is that something that you are demanding from Uber?
Speaker 2: 02:56 Absolutely. Thanks for what? We were so thankful. The New York half the alliance for everything they'd done. They have set a precedence for the rest of the country and they're standing out here in solidarity with us today as well as the employee rights center and the San Diego and imperial counties, Labor Council. But we have a lot of support and we are taking the precedence of all these amazing union and these coalitions that have formed to demand what we want. So yes, we are asking for the same provisions as New York has established.
Speaker 1: 03:28 Why did you first start driving for Uber and why did you stop?
Speaker 2: 03:33 I'm a full time student and student loans are great and they do allow me to pay for the necessities such as like food and books and things like that, but I needed something to supplement my income as I prepare for graduate school. I expected to be making the kind of funny that Uber and Lyft advertised when I started driving with them and I found out quickly that was not the case. Towards the end of driving with Uber, I did have an unsafe experience. There was no investigation, no report, no transparency in regard to anything that I had talked with them about. And so it wasn't too long after that, but I stopped driving and in recent months, um, because of the soaring gas prices and unfortunately the cost of living in San Diego here, I've actually had to let go of my car, um, and rely solely on public transportation. And I'm talking in, in that way. I'm lucky I'm talking to other drivers every day. I'm doing a lot of organizing calls with the drivers that are out here today. Some of them are actually renting their vehicles from Uber and left. They are living in their vehicles. They are driving 17 to 18 hours a day to make the uh, amount they need to pay for the rental and maybe have enough left over to reserve a room at like a Korean spa or hotel to spend the night and get up and start it all over again the next day.
Speaker 1: 04:55 What kind of impact do you think today's strike is going to have?
Speaker 2: 04:59 We're really curious as to the impact tomorrow when Uber Analysis their IPO, we're really wanting to let Wall Street and the investors know that they can't expect to make profits off the backs of the drivers.
Speaker 1: 05:11 I've been speaking with former Uber driver, Tina, she's been speaking to us from the side of the driver's rally at the San Diego International Airport. Tina, thank you so much.
Speaker 2: 05:21 Thanks so much marine.
Speaker 1: 05:23 Joining us now to talk about what this all means for Uber is Kq ed, Silicon Valley reporter Sam, her net. Sam, welcome. Thanks jade and has to be here. So what are you seeing and hearing this morning? How is this strike going so far?
Speaker 3: 05:36 You know, drivers are saying what they've always said, which is that they're not being treated well by Uber Nor Lyft, and that's become harder and harder to make a living as the years have gone by. You know, the reason that this wreck has happening now obviously is because Lyft just had its multibillion dollar IPO and Uber's bet to have, it's even bigger, multibillion dollar IPO. And drivers really want to point out that there's an imbalance between what they're making and what the investors and the execs are making. And I'll say, yeah, you're, you're, there's, there's, it's protest and cities around the country, right. But there's a big problem with a strike, which is that, uh, Uber and Lyft and set up a system where there are hundreds of thousands of drivers, uh, signed up to operate this app and they can just flip it on at any moment. So it's really hard for organizers to get everybody on board and to not a scab as it were.
Speaker 4: 06:21 Right. Cause I was going to ask, are there some drivers who are breaking the strike? Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Speaker 3: 06:26 I mean, if you log on to Uber and Lyft in any city, you would still be able to get a ride.
Speaker 4: 06:30 I want to read this statement from Uber. A spokesperson said, quote, 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. So, Sam, hasn't Uber made some changes aimed at improving conditions for drivers? That's really different,
Speaker 3: 06:50 we'll have to say, I mean, what has been documented that is that the pay has gone down. Uh, both Uber and Lyft when they started, they were burning through their venture capital, uh, and giving drivers pretty good rates. And if you go back four or five years, like driver used to make 40, 50 bucks an hour driving for these companies. Uh, and that has gone consistently down over the years. You know, Uber and Lyft have been very clear from the beginning that they don't see themselves as transportation companies, where the drivers are the key part. They see themselves as technology companies where their apps and their technologies are the key part of the business. So I feel like there's a little bit of a, uh, a fallacy in that statement because really what these companies are saying to investors into the public, uh, is that the technology and the engineers who make the technology is the heart of the business.
Speaker 4: 07:31 How do you think the stripe will impact the IPO offering? Very little. Yeah.
Speaker 3: 07:35 So none, uh, immediately. I mean I think, you know, the strike wasn't super disruptive. People still took rides today. Um, I think what could have a bearing down the line on these companies is the question over employment status. You know, right now Uber and Lyft argue that their platforms, right, that connect drivers to riders and that they don't employ the drivers because transportation is not their number one business. That's what these companies can tend a, and under their framework, they argue that all of these drivers are independent businesses and independent contractors. Therefore they don't have to Gareth guarantee minimum wage. They don't have to pay over time. And that is the business model that Uber and Lyft is as used to, uh, grow their companies and in their IPO prospectus is both companies said if we had to categorize these workers as employees, then uh, our businesses would take a big hit. So I think the strike is signifying that there are some drivers and workers that are trying to organize and that might push for something like employee status. And if that actually gained steam, then the companies could be in trouble. And investors would be upset.
Speaker 4: 08:34 And I was going to ask you about that because in California, a state Supreme Court decision narrows the definition of who can be classified as an independent contractor. And the legislature, uh, is also considering a bill that would have reclassified gig economy workers. How will that affect Uber's business model?
Speaker 3: 08:50 Uber and Lyft are extremely scared about, uh, the Supreme Court, uh, California court case that would make it easier for a gig workers to say their employees. This would have a big impact on their business model. Uh, and again, you know, these companies have, have profited by, uh, having these workers as contractors which are cheaper for the company so that that is a big factor. And if, if in California, uh, workers are successful in arguing that their employees and, uh, our legal framework allows them to win that battle, Uber and Lyft are going to be in big trouble.
Speaker 4: 09:22 And so what's the chance California will address the issue drivers are striking about through this legislation and regulation?
Speaker 3: 09:27 It's tricky to say. Uh, one of the biggest issues here is that every single driver and every single writer for that matter that drives for Uber or that interacts with Uber and Lyft signs a r a arbitration agreement, which says that they're going to resolve any dispute with the company and Arbitration as opposed to in court. So Uber and Lyft are actually sued, uh, every day by drivers who are claiming that their employees and those cases get those, uh, claims get settled behind closed doors and we don't know what happens. So those arbitration agreements is really a great buffer for Uber and Lyft from having to deal with this issue out in the open. So until that, the arbitration clause issue changes, it's hard to say exactly how the Supreme Court case or in legislation would affect these companies.
Speaker 4: 10:11 Looking into the future. Now Uber has invested in self driving cars. Is that Uber's goal?
Speaker 3: 10:16 I mean, there's been a lot of talk about that and I've been following the self driving car thing for years. And to be honest, it has, it's seeming more and more like a distant fantasy. These companies have been investing heavily in that technology with the idea that it would replace drivers and bring the cost down for these companies even more. But there's no indication that we're, we're going to have self driving cars on city streets anytime soon. So really investors got to think, you know, that could be a very, very, very longterm play. Uh, in the meantime, you know, they've got drivers who are requesting living wages.
Speaker 4: 10:48 I've been speaking with Kq ed, Silicon Valley reporter Sam Har Net. Sam, thanks for joining us. Thanks, jade.
Speaker 5: 11:02 Yeah.