In Los Angeles County, where the minimum wage is currently $14.25 an hour, studies suggest that Uber and Lyft drivers often make far less. In El Monte, an industrial city east of Los Angeles, the city council just unanimously voted to change that, telling city officials to begin drafting a law that would guarantee drivers a minimum of $30 an hour.
While other cities have set minimum wages for ride-hail drivers, this would be the highest in the country, and it comes after pressure from the Mobile Workers Alliance, a project from the Service Employees International Union, Local 721. “Currently, workers who are working for companies like Uber and Lyft are working lots of hours and still making less than minimum wage,” says Coral Itzcalli, an organizer for the union. “On average, we hear from workers that they’re working daily 12 to 16 hours a day. That translates to tired people behind the wheel on already congested public roads. And no one should put their life or the life of someone else at risk by being so tired behind the wheel just because they’re trying to earn the pennies on the dollar that Uber and Lyft is paying them.”
The pay might sound generous, but it’s intended to provide drivers with $15 an hour to cover the costs of operating their cars and another $15 in take-home pay. Itzcalli says that drivers have to cover the cost of gas, frequent oil changes and other maintenance because they’re driving so many miles, and extra insurance because standard car insurance doesn’t cover ride-hail drivers (Lyft says drivers are covered by the company when they are in driver mode). Many drivers have to work a week and a half just to cover the basic operating expenses of driving. A recent study from the Economic Policy Institute found that the average hourly wage for Uber drivers was just $11.77. The union’s own surveys suggest it’s actually closer to $8-9 an hour in the area.
“California is one of the most expensive states to live in,” says Itzcalli. “Housing is very, very expensive. Many of these folks are just one paycheck away from being homeless. We already have a homeless crisis. It is something that we all feel is urgent, because we cannot continue to allow these companies to drive our communities to the ground.”
City officials will have 120 days to develop the new ordinance, which will likely require another vote. Lyft, in response, offered a boilerplate statement that didn’t address El Monte specifically and won’t say what they calculate the hourly rate of drivers in El Monte. The company offered some broader figures: That in California drivers makes $30 an hour for “booked hours,” the time between when a driver books a trip and when they drop the passenger off. In the greater Los Angeles area, the company says drivers spend roughly 90% of their time “booked,” which would mean a roughly $27 per-hour wage before expenses like gas and depreciation. (Uber did not respond to requests for comment). In the meantime, a separate state bill is making its way to the governor that would force companies like Uber and Lyft to classify drivers as employees, not independent contractors.
We’ve updated this article with some additional info from Lyft about their claims on driver’s pay.