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Uber and Lyft strikes: US drivers stop taking rides in protest over pay

Michael Sainato and Kari Paul

Rideshare drivers are striking and protesting in major cities across the United States, with many participating in a 24-hour strike of the Uber and Lyft apps that began at midnight on 8 May.

Cities affected by the stoppage – which varies in length from two-hour strikes to day-long boycotts – include Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Philadelphia and others. Strikes are also expected overseas in Britain, Australia and elsewhere.

The protests come the day before Uber launches its shares in a public offering on the US stock exchange.

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The 4,300-member Rideshare Drivers United in Los Angeles is picketing outside Los Angeles international airport throughout the day in addition to participating in a 24-hour strike.

“All of us had to guess when Uber’s [share launch] was, knowing this would be a key moment the public, investors and elected officials would be looking at Uber to see what kind of company it is, and we knew the voices of drivers had to be elevated in this. And that’s why we chose this time to organize,” said Nicole Moore, a part-time Lyft driver and organizer with RideShare Drivers United.

Related: Uber IPO: the rich people who will get even richer when the company goes public

In San Diego, California, Uber and Lyft drivers are striking for 24 hours and holding a demonstration at San Diego international airport, a major hub for rideshare pickups in the region, starting at 11am local time and continuing into the afternoon.

“We have almost every labor union in the county supporting us,” said Tina Givens, an organizer with Rideshare Drivers United-San Diego and full-time college student. Givens worked as an Uber driver for nearly a year before giving it up. “I had to sell my car because I couldn’t afford the cost of living while renting a car, and I had some pretty unsafe experiences.”

Gig Workers Rising in San Francisco, one of the first rideshare driver groups to join the day of action, is also pushing for drivers to shut off their apps for 24 hours. The group organized a rally outside of Uber’s corporate headquarters.

“Workers are being exploited by these corporations and government has yet to do their job to protect us,” said Steve Gregg, a full-time Uber and Lyft driver for nearly two years who helped organize the rally in San Francisco.

A driver named Alex demonstrating outside the San Francisco Uber headquarters said he could not afford to live in the city where he works; instead, he drives in every day from Richmond, across the bay. To support his wife and six-year-old son, he drives up to 16 hours a day, five days a week. He held a sign showing Uber’s dropping rates: he says the old rates were $0.99 a mile and now they are $0.68. Uber claims drivers make an average of $18.65 an hour, but independent studies have found hourly wages are closer to $8 an hour.

Many drivers in San Francisco expressed anger at how much money executives will make from the IPO. Annette Ribero has been driving for Uber for two years and held a sign that read: “Dara, I can’t pay my rent, how is your $17m mansion?” referencing a home that the Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, reportedly bought in San Francisco in 2018 for $16.5m. Khosrowshahi is expected to make more than $9m from his shares in the company the day of the IPO. Ribero referenced the fact that many drivers now sleep in their cars to make a living.

“It’s only going to get worse, Uber has promised it,” she said. “I am wondering how long it’s going take for many of us drivers to stop working because we are paid so little.”

Nearby, a former Uber driver named Mohammed, who asked that his last name be withheld, held a sign that read: “Drivers united will never be defeated.” He quit driving for the app after six years of working. During that time, he says, he watched his wages fall from $500 for a 10-hour workday to nearly $150 for the same amount of driving. The physical effects of long days of driving were no longer worth the income, he said.

“I have back problems now, it’s not worth it,” he said. “They keep making more money and the drivers don’t get a piece of it.”

Some organizations of rideshare drivers have focused on holding demonstrations rather than asking drivers to walk out on strike.

Related: The Uber drivers forced to sleep in parking lots to make a decent living

“While the action is timed to stand in solidarity with striking drivers across the globe, the driver members of Philadelphia Drivers Union and Philadelphia Limousine Association are a community in crisis, many living one missed day of work away from vehicle repossession or missed medications,” noted a press release for a rally outside the Philadelphia Uber offices. The rally’s focus is on raising awareness to encourage legislators to enact a minimum wage and driver safety provisions.

“The main demand here is Uber and Lyft pay drivers a living wage,” said Jeffrey Dugas, an organizer with Driver United in Washington DC. “Drivers are fed up with the fact that Uber and Lyft executives are bringing home millions of dollars while many drivers cannot afford healthcare, cannot afford to feed their families, even when they’re driving full time.”

A man in a monkey mask holds up a sign as people block an intersection while protesting Uber and Lyft near Uber’s headquarters office in San Francisco, California, on 8 May 2019.
A man in a monkey mask holds up a sign as people block an intersection while protesting Uber and Lyft near Uber’s headquarters office in San Francisco, California, on 8 May 2019.

A man in a monkey mask holds up a sign as people block an intersection while protesting Uber and Lyft near Uber’s headquarters office in San Francisco, California, on 8 May 2019.Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Rideshare drivers are holding two protest rallies in Atlanta, one outside Uber and Lyft’s local offices. “One thing that’s different in Georgia than a lot of areas is we have little to no regulations around rideshare companies,” said Austin Gates, an organizer with Rideshare Drivers United-Georgia, the group organizing the rallies. “We have a lot of drivers who are fed up with the continuous cuts of rates and safety concerns on the driver side of things that aren’t being addressed properly or fairly.”

Driver advocate organizations in Boston; New York City; Minneapolis; Stamford, Connecticut; and several cities in the UK also planned protest actions or were calling for drivers to strike in addition to the global call for drivers to shut off the app the entire day of 8 May, in solidarity with these actions.

A Lyft representative told the Guardian in an email in response to the strikes and actions, “Lyft drivers’ hourly earnings have increased over the last two years, and they have earned more than $10bn on the Lyft platform. Over 75% drive less than 10 hours a week to supplement their existing jobs. On average, Lyft drivers earn over $20 per hour. We know that access to flexible, extra income makes a big difference for millions of people, and we’re constantly working to improve how we can best serve our driver community.”

A representative for Uber stated: “Drivers are at the heart of our service – we can’t succeed without them – and thousands of people come into work at Uber every day focused on how to make their experience better, on and off the road. Whether it’s more consistent earnings, stronger insurance protections or fully funded four-year degrees for drivers or their families, we’ll continue working to improve the experience for and with drivers.”