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Uber and Lyft drivers joined day-long strike for better pay

PUBLISHED ON 2021-07-22 21:11:00 EST Arghyadeep

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Drivers of ride-hailing service provider Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc went for a 24-hour strike on Wednesday across California, saying their earnings are declining and aimed their message at Washington to improve their working conditions.

The strike aimed to push the U.S. Senate to pass the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act — proposed federal legislation that would allow contractors to unionize if they chose.

The drivers said the promises made by the two ride-hailing companies last year during the Proposition 22 campaign have fallen short.

Last year in November, more than half of California voters passed the ballot initiative after the gig industries poured money into their ‘Yes on Prop. 22’ campaign, raising over $200 million to get voters on their side.

The companies launched an aggressive campaign claiming most of their drivers would prefer the flexibility of contract work over the stability of employee benefits, arguing that if this proposal did not pass, drivers would be forced to become full-time or leave the platform, and prices would increase.

The gig industry also offered guaranteed earnings and health-care stipends, allowing the companies to evade the AB5 that would’ve required them to treat drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.

Drivers in the state said they still don’t receive decent pay and benefits and asked federal lawmakers to push the PRO Act to gain the right to join unions and collectively bargain.

Although earlier, Uber and Lyft acknowledged that prices for rides are high and they don’t have enough drivers to meet rising demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers are still struggling and seeing declining rates for their efforts.

Ibrahim Diallo, an immigrant from Mali living in San Francisco, told MarketWatch that he has driven for Uber since 2015, and his earnings have diminished over the years.

Diallo said he has to work more hours than before to survive, and with the recent shortage of drivers, he said it has been hard to take breaks.

Esterphanie St. Juste, an 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.

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 told MarketWatch. “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 also planned for eight other cities, according to RDU: San Diego, Austin, Boston, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Baltimore.

Uber and Lyft pushed back against the drivers’ allegation.

“Drivers are busier now than they were even before the pandemic started,” Lyft said. “In our top markets, drivers are making more than $30 an hour, substantially higher than pre-COVID.”

An Uber spokesperson said the median earnings for its drivers when they are on the app is $32.33 an hour.

The strike came ahead of a Senate hearing on HR 482 — also known as the PRO Act — scheduled for Thursday morning.

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

Eddy Hernandez, a former Uber engineer who resigned in solidarity with drivers during previous year’s Prop 22 campaign, said, “tech workers need to demand an end to second-class employment status.”

Picture Credit: QZ

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