Tensions between Uber and Lyft and their armies of drivers are ratcheting to a fever pitch over cuts that the ride-hailing companies, under pressure to tame their losses, have made to drivers’ wages.
Uber and Lyft drivers in Southern California called for a 25-hour strike between Monday and Tuesday, while dozens of others set up outside an investor meeting Monday about Lyft’s upcoming stock listing.
Drivers say Uber and Lyft wage decreases in recent months of up to 25 percent and dwindling bonuses have squeezed their ability to make ends meet. Workers group Rideshare Drivers United said its strike is largely precipitated by an Uber wage cut in Southern California from 80 to 60 cents per mile, bringing the figure to 2 cents higher than the Internal Revenue Service’s standard mileage rate for cars used for business purposes.
“Instead of sharing a little bit from that money with drivers,” said driver Mostafa Maklad, 36, who drives for both companies, of the IPO, “they’re not sharing anything with drivers. Instead, they’re decreasing how much they pay.”
Uber confirmed it has changed rates in San Francisco and Los Angeles in recent months. Lyft said it has decreased wages based on distance while increasing rates based on time in some cities but not Los Angeles. It did not immediately elaborate on the details of the rate changes, however. The companies’ driver pay rates vary by location.
Organizers called it a “statewide day of action” for drivers in the state that has become ground zero for the ride-hailing revolution.
Rideshare Drivers United and Gig Workers Rising sponsored protests outside an Uber driver hub in the Los Angeles area and a Lyft “road show” event for investors in San Francisco at the luxury Omni Hotel. Rideshare Drivers United said it expected many of its 2,800 members to participate in the strike.
Lyft is set to go public as soon as this week, while Uber will follow later this year. Both stock listings are expected to mint hundreds of new millionaires, while drivers who have worked with the companies as contractors in recent years say their treatment has gotten worse.
At the event in front of the San Francisco hotel, Maklad expressed frustration about his dwindling share of earnings.
Images he shared of his weekly earnings over time reflected a pattern of dwindling earnings. For example, Maklad took home $2,139.04 one week in January after driving 68 hours and 7 minutes, making 162 trips. It was far more driving than he had done over a comparable period in September 2016, when he took home $2,313.23 in a week in which he drove 25 fewer hours, making 122 trips.
Gig Workers Rising, the San Jose-based workers’ rights group that held the demonstration, called for a higher wage and wage transparency for drivers, health care, unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits and a voice at the negotiating table. Rideshare Drivers United, which is sponsoring the Los Angeles strike that launched at midnight, said it will be the “largest coordinated action among rideshare drivers in the United States.”
Ride-hail drivers honked their horns and flashed thumbs up as they spotted the protest outside the hotel. The demonstrators chanted and displayed signs reading “Give Drivers a Fair Share” along with the Lyft logo and yelling “Lyft! Lyft! You’re no good, treat your drivers like you should!”
Rebecca Stack, a driver-organizer in San Francisco, said the demonstration comes at an inflection point.
“Now that you have investors putting pressure on them to turn a profit,” she said, “who do you think they’re going to come after? They’re going to come after drivers.”
Uber and Lyft billed the rate changes as a simplification of their fare structures. Uber said it said it introduced new driver-oriented promotions along with the rate changes, and said the new fare “changes will make rates comparable to where they were in September, while giving drivers more control over how they earn by allowing them to build a model that fits their schedule best,” according to spokesman Nick Smith. Drivers at the demonstration said the changes amounted to a pay cut overall.
In response to questions about the drivers’ concerns, Lyft said less than 10 percent of the app’s users turn to it for more than 20 hours per week.
“We are always open to conversations around how we can make Lyft better for drivers, but what we hear from the majority is that this is a flexible option that works for them,” Lyft spokeswoman Kaelan Richards said.