Uber and Lyft drivers in 11 cities across the country are striking on Wednesday, July 21, in protest of poor working conditions and declining pay rates, and to call on the U.S. Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would give app-based workers the right to organize with a union.
The PRO Act, which has been stalled in the Senate after passing in the House in March, would provide protections for workers across the country—including those in the gig-economy—who try to unionize. While business and trade groups have spoken out against the bill, union leaders and labor activists have rallied in favor of it, calling it a “game changer” for how it could correct wage and power inequalities in the workforce.
“Right now, Uber and Lyft have full control over how much drivers make. They control the algorithm, they control the pricing. Drivers have no say,” says Brian Dolber, an organizer with the Los Angeles faction of Rideshare Drivers United, a driver-led group that organized the 24-hour Wednesday strike. “This is a completely unequal work environment, and so with a union we hope that together, drivers can make their voices heard and negotiate fair conditions with the company and have a say in what their work looks like, how much they make, and have real health and safety protections.”
Rideshare Drivers United formed out of the 2017 driver strikes at Los Angeles LAX airport protesting pay cuts, and organized strikes timed to when both Uber and Lyft were preparing for IPOs. Now, drivers are striking again in support of the PRO Act, and to protest what they say are worsening, unfair work conditions during the pandemic.
The PRO Act would benefit workers across the country, but for drivers in California who are still dealing with the fallout of Prop 22—a California ballot measure, underwritten by Uber, Lyft, and the food delivery app Doordash, that cemented drivers as independent contract workers instead of employees—the Wednesday strike holds even more weight. Rideshare Drivers United says hundreds of drivers are on strike in four California cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Fresno.
“[Those companies] had $220 million to make their voices heard to politicians,” Dolber says, referring to the amount Uber, Lyft, and Doordash spent to support Prop 22. “We’re going on strike to make our voices heard to politicians to say that we can’t do this anymore, we need the PRO Act.” Outside of California, drivers are also striking in Austin, Boston, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Baltimore.
In response to requests for comment about the strike, spokespeople from both Lyft and Uber said drivers were making more money than before COVID. (Anecdotally, drivers have said their hourly earnings often don’t include all the hours they work and specifically the time spent waiting for rides, or the cost of expenses, which can be a burden.) Lyft added that it is working to “expand benefits and protections for drivers in a way that allows them to keep their independence,” while Uber said, “We will continue to work collaboratively with Congress and our diverse community of earners on meaningful solutions to improve the quality and security of independent work.” The Drivers Cooperative, a driver-owned ridehail app that recently launched in New York, released a statement supporting the action, saying it had been founded “to create the possibility of a permanent strike” from Uber and Lyft.
Ridehail customers may have noticed, or heard about, driver shortages that have led to soaring fares. Dolber says this shortage is more a “silent strike” due to workers’ unwillingness to go back to work after the pandemic ground ridehailing businesses to a near halt, under “substandard conditions.” In some areas, the number of Uber rides dropped by 80% in 2020, the Guardian reports, leaving many drivers without work.
Passengers who are now willing to get in a ridehail again may be paying more for their trips, but “fares going up does not translate into gains for drivers,” Dolber says. Instead, while customers pay more for an Uber or Lyft around town, Rideshare Drivers United says rates for drivers are going down. “If you want to voice your own outrage about being gouged as a consumer, stand with the workers, stand with the drivers,” he says, urging people not to take Uber or Lyft rides at all on July 21.