On the evening of Feb. 2, Chicago rideshare drivers gathered outside the Copernicus Center on the city’s Northwest Side, braving extremely cold and windy weather, to demand better working conditions, wages and benefits. Inside, 600 people gathered to hear a debate between the six candidates vying for 45th Ward alderperson, including Ana Santoyo, a union member and longtime member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
The drivers are a part of the Chicago Gig Alliance, a member-driven organization which includes gig workers for companies such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Amazon Flex, Uber Eats, Door Dash, Wag and TaskRabbit. Rideshare drivers united in the Chicago Gig Alliance are attempting to regulate this predatory and anti-worker industry by introducing the Rideshare Living Wage and Safety Ordinance in Chicago’s City Hall. The ordinance would create safety standards for drivers, create a transparent investigation and appeals process to prevent drivers from unfair deactivations and guarantee a living wage for drivers without raising fares for passengers by putting a cap on the amount of money the corporations can take from each ride.
Aracely Bak, who loves to drive and loves meeting new people, had this to say when asked about the potential impact of the new ordinance: “The ordinance will put a floor on the wages per mile or per minute, but another really important aspect, and this hits a lot of us, is the unfair deactivations. Right now, there is no way to fight back if a rider accuses you of something. Uber just takes your wages and deactivates your account. So, for the people who depend on driving to make a living, that’s just unacceptable.”
The proposed ordinance has 17 sponsors, but would need 26 votes from the city council to pass. It has yet to receive a hearing from the council’s License Committee since it was introduced in February 2022. Jim Gardiner, who has been alderperson of the 45th Ward since 2019, has yet to meet with the workers. Many of the workers had signs calling on Gardiner to support the ordinance, and when asked if attempts had been made to meet with Gardiner, Uber driver Ted Parks said: “We have reached out to Gardiner many times. In fact, he’s on the committee that our ordinance is in and he has not responded to his constituency. We showed up at his office and we finally got him to commit to a meeting, which was supposed to be last Thursday [Jan. 23] and then he cancelled the morning of, when we were all at the building.”
As many people who use Uber and Lyft know, the prices riders are paying have gone up dramatically. According to a study by Rakuten Intelligence, prices increased 92% between January 2018 and July 2021. When asked about wages Nolberto Casa, a longtime Uber and Lyft driver said that wages are actually decreasing: “We are out here because the wages have been getting cut for years now. Before they [Uber and Lyft] would pay us, as an example, from downtown Chicago to O’Hare Airport, maybe about $20. All of a sudden rideshare companies have introduced dynamic pricing. Dynamic pricing means that there is no floor for the pricing you will get paid per mile or per minute. So circling back to what I said earlier, for a ride from downtown to O’Hare, I used to get $20, maybe $22 dollars, now I get $12. And if you read Uber’s quarterly earnings report they are saying that driver pay is not a priority.”
Uber first broke onto the scene in 2011 and was hailed for their cheap rides as they undercut taxi services in major cities across the United States. After operating at a loss for a decade, Uber and Lyft have a duopoly on the rideshare market. Following Uber’s third quarter 2022 earnings report, press headlines trumpeted Uber’s 72% annual revenue growth rate and improved profitability. Uber’s growth was mostly driven by an obscure accounting change and raising U.S. rideshare prices faster than the rate of inflation while squeezing driver pay in its quest for profitability. Despite the rhetoric from the mainstream media, the main cause of inflation is monopoly price gouging and corporate greed, not rising wages.
When asked if she would support the Rideshare Living Wage and Safety Ordinance if elected, Santoyo said: “When I become Alderperson any workers rights legislation or living wage legislation will not languish in committee while multibillion dollar corporations continue to make record profits on the backs of the poor.”
Feature photo: Chicago rideshare drivers braved the cold to demand better working conditions, wages and benefits. Liberation photo