New York Times reported last Friday that Uber and Lyft drivers are planning a two-hour strike in several major cities around the world on Wednesday. This is a collaborated effort meant to coincide with Uber’s forthcoming IPO. Labor groups organizing the strike are protesting the companies’ poor payment and labor practices. They have planned to switch off the apps during the crucial morning rush hour on the day before Uber is expected to roll out the public offering of $90 billion.
Uber drivers in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles are scheduled to go on strike from 7AM to 9AM on Wednesday, May 8th, according to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Drivers have also participated in the work stoppage in several cities of UK, including London, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Glasgow, reported by The Independent. Other reports by Premium Times say that Uber drivers went on strike in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria in Africa.
According to the alliance, workers are demanding fewer driver deactivations, an end to upfront pricing, and a cap on the per-fare commission taken by ride-hail companies. Sonam Lama, one of the Uber drivers and a member of the alliance group says, “The gig economy is all about exploiting workers by taking away our rights. And it has to stop.”
Uber knows it has a driver problem. In its filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission which declared its intention to go public last month, Uber said that driver dissatisfaction was likely to increase as the company sought to reduce the amount of money it spends on driver incentives. “Further, we are investing in our autonomous vehicle strategy, which may add to Driver dissatisfaction over time, as it may reduce the need for Drivers,” the company notes.
Uber has a complicated history with driver strikes. In January 2017, Verge reported about the New York Taxi Workers Alliance announcing a strike at JFK Airport. This was in protest of President Donald Trump’s ban on refugees from six Muslim-majority countries. Uber was then accused of breaking the strike, sparking backlash from riders who tweeted photos of themselves deleting the Uber app with the hashtag #DeleteUber.
Again this year on March 25th, Uber and Lyft drivers went on a strike across Los Angeles in opposition to Uber’s decision to cut rates by 25% in the Los Angeles area.
But tomorrow’s strike appears to be more organized and geographically diverse than the earlier protests which were more localized. As the strike is organized by labour groups such as “Rideshare Drivers United” who are building an organization to fight for the dignity of their work and better lives. These groups are also aided by national advocacy groups such as Gig Workers Rising. It all makes sense, considering the IPO is expected to be the largest since Alibaba’s in 2014.
One of the Democratic presidential front-runners has also tweeted in favor of the drivers and said it is reasonable for drivers to ask higher wages when the CEO of the company gets paid $50 million in a year.
Uber says it can't pay its drivers more money, but rewarded its CEO with nearly $50 million last year. People who work for multibillion-dollar companies should not have to work 70 or 80 hours a week to get by. I stand with the Uber and Lyft drivers going on strike on May 8.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 3, 2019
An Uber spokesperson responded to NY Times listing some of the perks available to drivers, which include higher earnings and free four-year college, while a spokesperson for Lyft said that driver wages have gone up over the last two years. None of them commented on whether they would plan to use cash incentives to entice drivers to break the strike.
It is sure that a significant chunk of drivers will log off their apps during the strike, it remains likely that others will see it as an opportunity to cash in on the disruption.
According to one of users on Hackernews, “If a bunch of drivers go on strike then any of the remaining ones automatically get paid more because the supply is lower (surge pricing). The higher pay attracts new drivers, or gets the ones who only drive during surge pricing to come out and work full shifts as long as the good money is there.
This is basically the same result for the company as conceding to the drivers’ demands, except that it ends as soon as the striking drivers give up and reenter the labor pool.”
As of now we can only comment that drivers are classified as independent contractors, and as such, tend to act in their own best self interest.