Around 100 Uber and Lyft drivers are staging a caravan protest at Uber’s San Francisco headquarters to demand Uber comply with gig worker protections law AB 5, pay into the state’s unemployment insurance fund and drop the ballot initiative it proposed along with Lyft and DoorDash that aims to keep gig workers classified as independent contractors.
“Uber, Lyft and other gig companies are continuing in the same path of abusing and completely taking advantage of workers while putting them at risk,” rideshare driver and organizer with Gig Workers Rising Edan Alva told TechCrunch. “The thing is, it’s never been clearer than during these times how benefits, sick days and unemployment benefits are absolutely critical for workers, especially for workers who are considered essential and are the most vulnerable in society overall. What they earn immediately goes to sustaining themselves and their families.”
A recent survey in San Francisco found 45% of gig workers can’t afford a $400 emergency payment without borrowing and 78% of gig workers are people of color. As part of the protest, drivers also want shareholders to know that when they invest in companies like Uber or Lyft, “they become part of the problem,” Alva said. He added that they will shine the light on them in the same way they shine the light on Uber and Lyft.
Additionally, if Uber and Lyft were to classify their drivers as employees, they would be required to contribute to state and federal unemployment funds. According to a recent study by UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, Uber and Lyft contributions in California would come out to $413 million in additional funding based on the wages of drivers from 2014 to 2019.
This protest comes shortly after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with city attorneys from Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, filed a lawsuit asserting Uber and Lyft gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by misclassifying workers as independent contractors. The suit argues Uber and Lyft are depriving workers of the right to minimum wage, overtime, access to paid sick leave, disability insurance and unemployment insurance. The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of San Francisco, seeks $2,500 in penalties for each violation, possibly per driver, under the California Unfair Competition Law, and another $2,500 for violations against senior citizens or people with disabilities.
“We are incredibly ecstatic that the AG recently decided to follow through and enforce AB 5,” Alva said. “But Uber and Lyft are still trying to eliminate legislation that provides workers those rights. It’s such a level of entitlement and disregard to human lives. It’s good the state of California is going after these companies. From the perspective of the worker, I feel like we as workers need to come together and we need to send consistently and relentlessly a very clear message that this is unacceptable.”
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the group behind the anti-AB 5 ballot initiative, Protect App-Based Drivers & Services, said the suit “threatens to eliminate rideshare and delivery services.” This group is mostly funded by Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. In August, each company put $30 million into the initiative. Since then, the initiative has gathered support from thousands of drivers, according to the group.
“When I saw what this initiative was, I just saw it as a win-win,” rideshare driver Jim Pyatt told TechCrunch. “In terms of the insurance, guaranteed income — how could I go wrong in supporting that.”
Beyond AB 5, however, drivers protesting today are also concerned about the lack of masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectants being made available to them. Both Uber and Lyft have begun taking some steps to provide drivers with personal protective equipment. But not enough was being done before Alva ultimately decided to stop driving in April.
“By the time I stopped working for Lyft, I was making $5 an hour,” he said. “There was no point in putting myself at risk and at the same time earning that little. If they invest half of what they invest on trying to repeal AB 5, I’m sure our workers would have been well-equipped at this point.”
Mekela Edwards, a rideshare driver and organizer with We Drive Progress, has similarly stopped driving during the pandemic. Edwards, who is self-isolating at the direction of her doctor, told TechCrunch she helped organize the protest because she wants to bring attention to the problems drivers are facing. One of the biggest issues, she said, is that drivers are misclassified in California. Beyond that, Edwards says she and many other drivers have faced difficulties trying to get financial assistance from Uber.
Uber first announced its financial assistance policy in March. At the time, only drivers who were diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in quarantine by a public health authority were eligible. Since then, Uber has expanded it to include drivers and delivery people who have been told to “individually quarantine” because of a pre-existing condition that puts them at a higher risk of facing serious illness from the coronavirus.
Edwards, whose doctor advised her it wasn’t safe to drive due to her asthma, said she applied for financial assistance from Uber but never heard from the company. And instead of spending millions on the ballot initiative, Edwards wishes Uber would use that money to better support drivers during the pandemic.
“That’s money they could be spending to support us,” she said. “We enjoy the work we do. We just want to be respected and appreciated like any worker should be.”
TechCrunch has reached out to Uber. We’ll update this story if we hear back.