Over 100 Uber drivers protested outside the company’s Long Island City offices on Monday afternoon, in reaction to Uber's Friday decision to slash UberX fares by 15% city-wide. The drivers were aiming to kick off a 72-hour strike against the company, and trying to get their voices heard by a company which considers their drivers as “partners,” but not employees.
“They cut the cost of their service, and they didn’t even ask us,” said Tenzin Wangchuk, a Woodside resident who has been driving for Uber for six months, after switching over from a yellow cab. “The cost is being reduced from us, not from the company. If they wanted to do a discount that they would pay for, fine by us. But they’re asking us to lose out on a huge part of our fare.”
As chants of “Shame on Uber!” were hurled against the brick building which serves as Uber’s driver office on Jackson Avenue, drivers tried to persuade anyone leaving the Uber offices to join in the protest. Speakers used a snow pile as a pulpit, trying to unify the drivers in their efforts to raise the wages for Uber drivers back to where they were just months ago.
“It was good at the beginning, there was a base fare, not as many drivers. You were able to make a living and truly work at your own time,” said Dwayne Andrews, who has been driving for Uber for two years. “But now you have to do more trips for less money and every month they're putting out more and more drivers, further diluting the market. And now they’re dropping the prices? Everything we’ve been saving on low gas prices have gotten completely washed out.”
Many drivers at the protest had leased cars either through Uber or on their own, on the premise that Uber would keep their wages where they were during their initial driver recruitment efforts, which poached drivers from yellow taxi and livery services. With fares steadily dropping during the past year, drivers were already feeling the financial pinch.
“I pay $1,000 a month for my car, which I financed through Uber, and I pay $500 for insurance, and every year I pay $620 for my TLC license, and we don’t even make tips. So it all adds up,” said Bakhtiyori Khuseynizoole, who began driving for Uber when he moved to Queens from Tajikistan two years ago.
“They keep dropping the minimum fare. For me, this is my part-time job. I feel bad for the people who just started their career for Uber. I’ll stop driving for Uber if they keep this rate.”
In smaller pockets at the protest, drivers began to share stories about various indignities they had to put up with in addition to the reduced fare. Uber Pool, which has drivers make multiple stops for a single fare, was a popular source of criticism. One hastily put-together sign had "Uber Pool" crossed out, replaced by "Uber Fool."
"UberPool is the absolute worst," one driver lamented. "These two people got into my car at JFK after ordering an UberPool, and I told them we were making a stop at LaGuardia on our way into Manhattan, because that's how pool works. They started crying because they weren't being taken straight to Manhattan. They ended up taking a different cab."
Asked about the strike earlier today, an Uber spokesman said that "if for any reason the price cuts are not giving drivers more business and better earnings, we will consider changing them. We are offering to meet individually with every driver who wants to discuss their concerns and review their earnings to show how we think this is helping their business."
The protest and strike were organized by an unaffiliated group of drivers, but representatives from the Amalgamated Transit Union and Taxi Workers Alliance were all on hand.
Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai mounted the snow pile to rally the drivers, connecting this protest to actions by Uber drivers across the world against unfair treatment by the App that’s now valued at $62.5 billion.
“What we’ve seen is most Uber drivers are working with 2-3 apps, just to make ends meet. Now that Uber has cut their rates, Lyft is cutting their rates. It’s a race to the bottom,” Desai told Gothamist.
“Uber drivers found out about the wage cut from an email that asked them to sign on in support of the wage cut," Desai explained. "If they didn’t accept it, they couldn’t work that day. These drivers are responding by making Uber feel the economic squeeze of their policies of impoverishment. ”