In-Depth: Why Lyft, Uber drivers launched a 24-hour strike

Lyft, Uber drivers rally in San Diego
Posted at 5:58 PM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-21 23:54:25-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A few dozen Uber and Lyft drivers rallied in San Diego Wednesday, part of a 24-hour strike in several cities to push for new federal labor protections.

Demonstrators said their earnings and working conditions have worsened since Californians passed Proposition 22. Rideshare companies spent record-breaking amounts to support the November ballot measure, which reclassified drivers as independent contractors instead of employees.

Participants in the 24-hour strike hope the federal government will address some of the changes in a bill now before the U.S. Senate.
The strike comes as demand for rides has picked up after months of pandemic restrictions, but many drivers have yet to return to the platforms.

“Drivers are not going to work for substandard wages and as second-class workers,” said Brian Dolber, an organizer with Rideshare Drivers United.

A shortage of drivers has led to long waits for rides and steep price surges. Rideshare prices in the second quarter of 2021 were up 79 percent compared to the second quarter of 2019, according to Gridwise.

However, Uber drivers no longer get a proportional cut of that surge pay after changes the company made this spring.

“We used to get a piece of that. We don’t anymore,” said Carlos, a rideshare driver who asked to have his last name withheld from this story out of concern he could face retaliation from the platforms.

He described the change as “demoralizing” and one of the reasons fueling the shortage.

An experiment this month by Mission Local demonstrates the disconnect between ride prices and driver pay. Staff booked 20 Lyft and Uber rides in the San Francisco area. On average, they found drivers only kept 52 percent of what the riders paid.

In April, Uber stopped paying drivers based on the customer fare. They switched back to a system the company uses in most of the country, which is based on time, distance and bonuses.

Uber argues driver pay per trip has been increasing nationwide. It rose 37 percent from January through May, according to a tweet by Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

In an email to ABC 10News, a Lyft spokesman said drivers are making substantially more than before the pandemic, upwards of $30 per hour in some California cities. Lyft “decoupled” driver pay from the amount paid by passengers in 2016.

But some drivers argue their earnings after Proposition 22 aren’t transparent and said the health benefits and flexibility they were promised haven’t panned out. Individuals on Medicare or Medi-Cal, for example, do not qualify for a health care subsidy.

“All this did was lock drivers in as a second class group of workers. And between that and the pandemic, frankly, drivers have had enough,” Dolber said.

The protests in San Diego and ten other cities are designed to rally support for the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, known as the PRO Act. The federal legislation would give independent contractors the right to collectively bargain and unionize.

The legislation passed the House of Representatives in March and is awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate.