As Fares Rise and Rates Plummet, California Rideshare Drivers Are Staging a Strike

At a series of protests across the state, Uber and Lyft drivers will call for the Senate to pass a piece of pro-union legislation

On Wednesday, July 21, rideshare drivers across the state will be staging a strike to demand the right to unionize and for the passage of the PRO Act. The strike, organized by Rideshare Drivers United (RDU), will occur simultaneously at LAX, in front of the Uber headquarters in San Francisco, and outside a Lyft drivers center in San Diego.

“We are striking to expose the fraud that is Prop 22, and to tell these companies that we are going to keep organizing and demanding a voice on the job,” says Brian Dolber of the RDU, an organization that represents 20,000 drivers across the state and is expecting several hundred members at LAX on Wednesday. Prop 22, which was passed by voters in November 2020 with the help of a $200 million push by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and others, classifies gig employees as independent contractors rather than full-time employees, thereby undoing various workplace protections and excluding them from being entitled to benefits. “We need the PRO Act in order to reopen the economy with justice—politicians and businesses alike are scared of a labor shortage, but all workers, and particularly app-based workers, won’t work in degrading conditions,” Dolber continued.

The PRO Act, or Protecting the Right to Organize Act, was originally included in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, but is now part of the $3.5 trillion bill Democrats are looking to pass through budget reconciliation. The act, which would weaken anti-union so-called “right-to-work” laws while strengthening employees’ rights to organize, is facing fierce opposition from the GOP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other business lobby groups.

“As [a recent UC Santa Cruz] report shows, many drivers make zero dollars, yet the companies keep lowering the rates,” Dolber explains. “The PRO Act would let us collectively bargain with Uber and Lyft so that drivers could earn a decent living and work under safe conditions.”

According to a May 2020 report by the UC Santa Cruz Institute for Social Transformation, rideshare drivers earn $900 per week, on average, while food delivery workers (UberEats, DoorDash, et al.) average $500 per week. But once expenses are calculated, earnings “drop to as low as $360/week for ride-hailing drivers and $224/week for delivery workers,” the report notes, and as much as 20 percent of rideshare drivers “might be earning nothing when all expenses are accounted for.” Additionally, both companies continue to lower the rates they pay drivers. Uber recently cut rates at LAX from 60 cents a mile to 32. This rate “won’t even cover your gas, forget your time,” Esterphanie St. Juste, a driver for Uber and Lyft said in a statement. “And on top of that it’s an insult.” These lower rates, plus the passage of Prop 22, are a grim reality for those who depend on driving to make a living or even just to make ends meet.

Yet, Uber and Lyft maintain that their drivers do earn living wages. While neither company responded directly to requests for comment on this story, Geoff Vetter, vice president of public affairs for the Clyde Group, which represents both Uber and Lyft, noted that “as of April 2021, Uber drivers in Los Angeles are earning $26.85 per hour and drivers in San Francisco are earning $25.28 per hour.” However, these figures, published by Uber in April, come with many caveats: the earnings represent drivers who spend 20 hours a week online, drive either a Toyota Prius or Camry only, and, most importantly, do not account for expenses. Uber further notes that these April figures are not a “guarantee of future earnings,” and that “earnings can vary depending on many factors, including time spent driving with Uber, rider demand and other factors.”

The PRO Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in March, but needs the support of at least three more Democrats in order to pass a vote in the Senate.

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