On May 8, a loose coalition of organizations representing Uber and Lyft drivers in 10 cities across the United States, Australia, UK, and Brazil called a one-day strike in advance of Uber making its Initial Public Offering. Before going public, Uber expected its valuation to land at $90 billion, but witnessed a dismal performance during its first day on Wall Street. Multiple sources determined that the strike and the prospect of continued driver organizing contributed to Uber’s underwhelming performance on the stock market. Organizers of the action and participating drivers called on all Uber and Lyft customers to shut down their apps for 24 hours in solidarity with the work stoppage.
In Massachusetts, the newly formed Boston Independent Drivers Guild mobilized 40 rideshare drivers, unionists and community supporters to picket in front of the Uber Greenlight office in Saugus. “[BIDG] got formed 2 months ago and we’ve put in a lot of work,” said Zouhar Ntodua, a Unite Here Local 26 member who has also driven for Uber for five years. “The thing we’re trying to get from this organizing today is working with other cities to organize this strike. San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver are all going out on the same day.”
In response to Uber and Lyft’s unannounced changes to driver payment structures and unilateral erosion of wages, drivers and supporters chanted “What do we want? Our fair share! When do we want it? Now!” and “Uber listen, enough is enough!” The “race to the bottom” for drivers is directly tied to the fact that Uber — which has operated at a deficit since its inception — cannot continue to do so if it expects to be viable on the stock market. In true capitalist fashion, Uber is stealing more wages from drivers in an attempt to cut costs and look more attractive to investors, while their top executives pocket hundreds of millions of dollars.
“They keep lowering our pay. It’s price manipulation. There’s no transparency with the app. If you talk to Uber drivers, some make $7 an hour. The pay was lowered back in November from $1.20 per mile to 70 cents per mile,” full-time Uber and Lyft driver Felipe Martinez told Liberation News. “And not only that, they lowered our incentives for surge prices. They used to give us 3.5 times the ride. Now it’s just a nominal small amount.” Before being paid per mile, Uber drivers received a percentage of each fare, which was more beneficial. “Uber used to take 20 percent, then they decided to pay us per mile,” Ntodua explained.
As picketers circled the driveway to Uber’s office, Martinez — who sits on BIDG’s board of directors— shouted, “This is corporate greed. We are the back and the sweat of this economy for Uber and Lyft and they’re treating us horrible.”
In addition to rolling back drivers’ wages and pay structure, Ntodua pointed out: “Drivers get deactivated for no reason.” The three central demands that resonated with all drivers who participated in the picket were higher wages, more transparency, and a stop to arbitrary driver deactivations.
Picketers chanted energetically for almost two hours as cars and trucks honked their horns in support. Martinez highlighted the solidarity other unions have shown to the newly formed BIDG. “We’re working with the School Bus Drivers Union. The Teamsters have also showed us solidarity. We have support. Sometimes they give us advice. But as drivers we need to do this. We need to stand up for our rights.”
Boston area rideshare drivers text (781) 486-4545 for more information about the Boston Independent Drivers Guild.