On Wednesday morning, just before noon, a caravan of honking cars drove up to the affluent Pacific Heights neighborhood in San Francisco and stopped outside Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s house. As the song “9 To 5” by Dolly Parton blared from speakers on top of a protester’s vehicle, organizers and protest speakers walked up to Khosrowshahi’s home and unfurled a sign which read: “A Thief Lives Here.”
The estimated 40 to 50 rideshare drivers who showed up outside the Uber boss’ house are calling him a “thief” because they believe they deserve higher wages and health care benefits. To hone in on their point, they chose Khosrowshahi’s San Francisco home as the site of their protest, which is currently worth an estimated $17.7 million, according to Zillow.
The protesters on Wednesday demanded that the company stop its efforts to circumvent AB5, a gig-work California law that technically requires sharing economy businesses like Uber and Lyft to reclassify independent contractors as employees. The law, which went into effect on January 1 this year, has not yet been fully implemented; under the new classification rideshare drivers are supposed to receive a minimum wage, and could be eligible for overtime pay, paid sick time and other benefits. According to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle, it’s estimated that if implemented, the law could increase labor costs by as much as 30% for app-based companies like Uber.
Since AB5’s passage, Uber, Lyft, Doordash and other tech companies that rely on gig workers have spent $110 million on a new ballot measure for the November election, called Protect App-Based Drivers & Services, which would carve out an exemption for their drivers. The proposed measure would allow tech companies to continue to classify drivers and couriers as independent contractors, but it would provide these contractors with some guarantees and benefits, including healthcare subsidies and occupational accident insurance. However, the protesters are unsatisfied with the proposed measure.
“Our demands are very simple,” said Cherri Murphy, an Uber driver who joined the protest outside of Khosrowshahi’s house. “Drop the ballot measure. Accept yourselves to AB5. You’re not only sidestepping democracy, you’re further ensuring your workers will be kept in poverty forever.”
It is unclear whether Khosrowshahi was inside the home at the time of the protest.
Protesters also pointed out on Wednesday that drivers are even more vulnerable amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Faced with increasing financial insecurity as more people stay home and take fewer rides, Uber and Lyft are not obligated to provide health insurance to rideshare drivers. Uber has responded in recent months with several initiatives, including providing financial assistance for up to 14 days to drivers who have been diagnosed with Covid-19. Protesters say that is not enough.
San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar, an elected official who represents several districts in the city, also spoke at the protest, expressing solidarity with the rideshare drivers. “During a public health crisis, it’s immoral, it’s irresponsible to deny workers their basic rights,” said Mar. “We cannot and will not stand for this. Uber and Lyft and these other corporations must do the right thing, and more importantly they must follow the law and properly classify their drivers as employees. Unfortunately, we see them doubling down on their illegal business practices and spending $110 million on this ballot measure to try to overturn AB5. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors stands with Uber drivers and other app-based workers here in our city.”
Stacey Wells, a spokesperson for the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services measure, said in a statement to Forbes: “By a 4:1 margin drivers have said they want to remain independent contractors. They don’t want to be employees. That’s because 80 percent of drivers are part time and drive fewer than 20 hours a week and most drive less than 10. They’re driving to supplement income around other jobs and life responsibilities and wouldn’t be able to work as full time employees. That’s why more than 75,000 drivers support the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Act on the November ballot.”
The event, which lasted for about an hour, culminated with drivers taping handwritten messages on a pillar outside of Khosrowshahi’s house, as the song “The Rich Man’s House” by Anne Feeney blared in the background. “I don’t make enough money to pay the rental car, the gas, my rent, my food,” reads one note.
The protest was organized by We Drive Progress and Gig Workers Rising, two advocacy organizations that are made up of rideshare drivers across the country.