In the early afternoon of May 8, organizers and workers associated with the Chicago Rideshare Advocates group gathered for a march to city hall where a demonstration was planned. An impromptu press conference was held before the march in which the workers stated their demands: a limit for the amount of drivers in the city, more regulations to ensure driver safety, and formal employment with benefits.
This march and demonstration in Chicago is one of the many similar actions that occurred across the country on May 8 in response to Uber’s initial public offering on May 10. The May 8 actions were initially only planned for in Los Angeles through the organization Rideshare Drivers United, but soon 9 other similar rideshare workers’ organizations across the country decided to strike or hold demonstrations.
Workers for Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare companies are not technically classified as employees but “independent contractors.” As a result of this, the industry is not subject to the same level of regulation and labor laws that taxi drivers are, for example. They are supposedly their own bosses and the rideshare companies merely provide an app to pair them with passengers, even though the companies take up to 75 percent of the revenue generated by the drivers.
In Chicago, rideshare drivers have seen as much as a 70 percent pay cut over the past 5 years, according to Chicago Rideshare Advocates, and that has resulted in drivers who used to work 40-50 hours per week needing to now work 80-100 hours per week just to make the same amount of money as before. These increased hours have resulted in extremely poor working conditions for drivers, as well as adding even more expenses related to car maintenance and insurance which the drivers have to cover with their own money. The CRA stated:
“Maybe we’re lucky to be making $11 if we got a newer car that needs less maintenance — but most of our drivers are making as little as $4 an hour, some are making $8.”
When interviewed, drivers expressed frustration with how little they actually make on the job. In addition to this, the labor used to clean messes and repair damages left by passengers is largely uncompensated. They also said that the job was not safe safe for drivers, as the companies prioritize passengers over the drivers. Taylor, a Lyft driver who used to work in Chicago, shared that she was once assaulted by a passenger, who then filed a false claim for a missing item in her car and was able to get her phone number. Lyft only sent Taylor a response weeks later, and was uncooperative in resolving the situation.
One of the demands made by the CRA is that the city of Chicago put a limit on the number of drivers that can be active within the city. A similar policy was enacted in New York last year, putting a cap on the number of available cars within city. With this limit, New York also was able to enforce a minimum wage for drivers. Explaining this demand, the CRA said that there 100,000 active drivers in Chicago, “which actually means we have more drivers in Chicago than in LA or New York and they have twice the population.”
Uberʼs IPO on May 10 valued it at $76.5 billion and those deeply invested in the company were made instant billionaires. Closing the press conference, the CRA stated that rideshare companies that go public “left the rest of us behind” and that “sooner or later there won’t be any drivers left because weʼll all be homeless.”
May 8 was likely the largest rideshare workers protest and strike in history. In an industry where there are essentially no unions and drivers are largely kept isolated, they are now realizing that they hold immense power over the massively exploitative companies they work for. Through collectively organizing and withholding labor, the workers can fight these low wages and horrible working conditions together.