: Uber and Lyft drivers strike for a day, say earnings are declining despite driver shortage

United States

SAN FRANCISCO — Ride-hailing drivers across the country went on strike Wednesday, saying their earnings are declining and calling on the U.S. Senate to pass the PRO Act to allow them to organize.

In California, drivers said the promises Uber Technologies Inc. UBER, +2.59% and Lyft Inc. LYFT, +5.33% made last year during the companies’ record-breaking Proposition 22 campaign have fallen short. More than half of California voters passed the ballot initiative, which offered guaranteed earnings and health-care stipends, allowing the companies to circumvent a state law that would’ve required them to treat drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.

For more: Gig workers to see pay changes, customers to see higher prices after Prop. 22 passes

Drivers in the state say they still lack decent pay and benefits, and are asking federal lawmakers to act so they can gain the right to join unions and collectively bargain. As Uber and Lyft acknowledge that prices for rides are high and that they don’t have enough drivers to meet rising demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some drivers still contend they are seeing declining rates for their efforts.

Drivers stopped working and converged at Uber headquarters in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon, chanting “Prop. 22, somebody lied to you.”

Ibrahim Diallo, an immigrant from Mali who lives in San Francisco, told MarketWatch at the rally that he has driven for Uber since 2015, and his earnings have decreased over the years. Diallo said he’s having to work more hours than before to survive, and with the recent shortage of drivers, he said it has been hard to take breaks.

“Am I a robot?” he asked. “If you don’t take a break, you’ll get tired and could get in an accident.”

Esterphanie St. Juste, a longtime driver and organizer with Rideshare Drivers United (RDU) in Los Angeles, said Uber has reduced what it pays drivers out of Los Angeles International Airport to 32 cents a mile.

“Can you imagine being paid 32 cents for anything in the U.S., and with gas prices rising?” she asked.

Brian Dolber, an associate professor at California State University, San Marcos, and an organizer with RDU, said drivers out of LAX were previously making 58 cents a mile.

“Prior to that it was 80 cents per mile, and years before that it was $ 1.50,” Dolber said. “Long-term drivers have seen substantial declines in pay. These companies hooked people in, where people were making a decent living, but without any legal protections, drivers saw their rates lowered repeatedly.”

Drivers also demonstrated at the L.A. airport on Wednesday, and similar efforts were planned in eight other cities, according to RDU: San Diego, Austin, Boston, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Denver and Baltimore.

See: Uber, Lyft drivers say new California law isn’t solving their health-care needs

Uber and Lyft pushed back against the drivers’ allegations Wednesday.

“Drivers are busier now than they were even before the pandemic started,” a Lyft spokesman said. “In our top markets, drivers are making more than $ 30 an hour, substantially higher than pre-COVID.” An Uber spokeswoman said the median earnings for Uber drivers when they are on the app is $ 32.33 an hour.

The drivers’ action comes ahead of a Senate committee hearing on HR 482 — also known as the Protect the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act — scheduled for Thursday morning. The bill, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed in March, has so far fallen short of the support it needs to be taken up by the Senate.

“The only job of a business is to make profit for their owners and stockholders,” St. Juste told MarketWatch on Wednesday. “The PRO Act will give us our voice and give us the power to make changes.”

Both gig companies touted “driver independence” in their response to drivers urging lawmakers to pass the PRO Act.

See: PRO Act, called ‘most important labor legislation in several generations,’ passes House

“Lyft is fighting to expand benefits and protections for drivers in a way that allows them to keep their independence,” that company’s spokesman said. Uber’s spokeswoman said: “Uber believes we should advance policies that improve independent work, instead of eliminating it.”

For more: Gig work could change under Biden’s Labor secretary. Here’s how

The San Francisco rally included politicians and activists. California Assemblyman Ash Kalra, a Democrat, called the PRO Act “a backstop” against “the downward spiral of our society.”

“[The gig companies] can just spend a bunch of money and make their own laws,” he said.

Eddy Hernandez, a former Uber engineer who quit his job in solidarity with drivers during last year’s Proposition 22 campaign, said that “tech workers need to demand an end to second-class employment status.”

“How does Uber know what drivers want if they don’t have a voice on the job?” he asked.