By Rebecca Heilweil
As Uber prepares to go public on Friday, its drivers ー along with drivers for Lyft and other ride-hail apps ー are striking for better pay and job security. The strikes ranging from two to 24 hours throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and parts of South America. Most participating drivers were expected to log off the app during morning commute hours.
"They are asking for a higher share of the pie, so to speak," Maria Figueroa, the labor and policy research director at the Worker Institute at Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told Cheddar.
Currently, Uber charges a 25 percent fee on its rides, which the company says pays for the use of Uber's technology and for processing fares. Figueroa says that drivers are looking to lower that commission to 15 or 10 percent and don't necessarily want customers to pay more out-of-pocket.
"The workers, I would say, have a solid claim to make, especially because of the fact that the business models that these companies are implementing are pretty much based on the fact that all these workers are considered independent contractors," said Figueroa. Independent contractor drivers must self-fund the expenses associated with their work ー like gas, repairs, and the car itself ー and don't receive benefits, like health care coverage or sick days. "They're not able to make a living," she said.
One of the leaders of the strike, the Los Angeles-based advocacy organization Rideshare United, is demanding a "ten percent commission cap, transparency around deactivations, the right for drivers to organize and negotiate with the companies, and community standards around traffic and emissions to ensure that the rideshare industry benefits the cities where it operates."
Ride-sharing passengers were also asked to boycott the service today in solidarity.
The strike follows Lyft's initial public offering in March, and comes a day before Uber is set to follow suit. There is little sign that either company intends to make significant changes to its independent contractor model. "It really helps their capital-raising strategies," Figueroa said. "But the other side of the coin is that workers are really bearing the burden of this business model." She adds that, in the long-term, companies hoping to achieve profitability and sustainability must form a better relationship with their workers.
Labor activists, meanwhile, face an uphill battle effectively organizing and communicating with the drivers. The independent contractors are scattered, and while some drivers work full-time, many are part-time. As of this morning, it was unclear whether or not many drivers had ultimately participated in today's strike.
"It's very hard to ask that the workers join this strike," Figueroa said. "They need the income."
Still, regionally-focused organizing ー including a recent March strike in Los Angeles ー have succeeded in attracting attention to the labor issues raised by the services, and organizing efforts did help propel New York City to pass the country's first minimum-pay rate for ride-hailing app drivers, which should make driver pay about $17.22 an hour (after expenses).
Today's strike aims to build on those efforts. "Despite the fact that maybe not a lot the workers joined it, I think it's a success in these sense that it called so much attention to the plight of these workers, not just nationwide, but worldwide," said Figueroa. "I would call it a success."