Ride-hailing drivers across the country executed a strike Wednesday, calling on the U.S. Senate to pass the PRO Act, a bill that would allow them to organize.
In California, drivers say the promises Uber Technologies Inc
and Lyft Inc.
made last year during the companies’ record-breaking Proposition 22 campaign have fallen short. More than half of California voters passed the ballot initiative, which offered guaranteed earnings and health care stipends, allowing the companies to circumvent a state law that would’ve required them to treat drivers as employees instead of independent contractors. Now drivers in the state say they still lack decent pay and benefits, and are asking federal lawmakers to act so they can gain the right to join unions and collectively bargain.
As Uber and Lyft acknowledge that prices for rides are high and that they don’t have enough drivers to meet rising demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some drivers stopped working Wednesday and planned to converge Wednesday afternoon at Uber headquarters in San Francisco, at LAX and at a Lyft driver center in San Diego. Drivers also took action in seven other cities: Austin, Boston, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Denver and Baltimore.
“The only job of a business is to make profit for their owners and stockholders,” Esterphanie St. Juste, a longtime driver and organizer with Rideshare Drivers United (RDU) in Los Angeles, told MarketWatch on Wednesday. “The PRO Act will give us our voice and give us the power to make changes.”
The drivers’ action comes ahead of a Senate committee hearing on HR 482 — also known as the Protect the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act — scheduled for Thursday morning. The bill, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed in March, has so far fallen short of the support it needs to be taken up by the Senate.
St. Juste said Uber has reduced what it pays drivers out of the Los Angeles International Airport to 32 cents a mile. “Can you imagine being paid 32 cents for anything in the U.S., and with gas prices rising?” she said.
Brian Dolber, an associate professor at California State University, San Marcos who’s also an organizer with RDU, said drivers out of LAX were previously making 58 cents a mile. “Prior to that it was 80 cents per mile, and years before that it was $1.50,” Dolber said. “Long-term drivers have seen substantial decline in pay. These companies hooked people in where people were making a decent living, but without any legal protections, drivers saw their rates lowered repeatedly.”
Uber and Lyft pushed back Wednesday.
“Drivers are busier now than they were even before the pandemic started,” a Lyft spokesman said. “In our top markets, drivers are making more than $30 an hour, substantially higher than pre-COVID.” An Uber spokeswoman said the median earnings for Uber drivers when they are on the app is $32.33 an hour.
Both companies touted “driver independence” in their response to drivers urging lawmakers to pass the PRO Act.
“Lyft is fighting to expand benefits and protections for drivers in a way that allows them to keep their independence,” that company’s spokesman said. The Uber spokeswoman said: “Uber believes we should advance policies that improve independent work, instead of eliminating it.”