Thousands of ride-hailing drivers in New York City will go on strike for two hours on Wednesday morning, as part of an international day of actions to demand better wages and working conditions ahead of Uber's planned IPO later this week.
The company is expected to go public on Friday with a valuation as high as $90 billion. But as Uber shareholders are set to get richer, drivers say they've been left behind in the offering. Studies have shown that half of U.S. Uber drivers—whom the company does not consider employees—make less than $10 an hour on average.
"With the IPO, Uber's corporate owners are set to make billions, all while drivers are left in poverty and go bankrupt," said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the NY Taxi Workers Alliance, which is helping to organize the NYC-based action. "That's why NYTWA members are joining the international strike to stand up to Uber greed."
In New York City, drivers with Uber, Lyft, Via, and Juno will turn off their apps for two hours, beginning at 7 a.m. A rally is planned for 11 a.m. outside Uber's driver hub in Long Island City.
STRIKE STRIKE STRIKE! We are calling on all people of good conscience in NYC to log off of the apps in 7 AM to 9 AM Wednesday, May 8th to support our strike. Don't use Uber, don't use Lyft. Log off of all the apps! Support app drivers demanding job security and livable incomes!
— NY Taxi Workers (@NYTWA) May 3, 2019
Already this week, both Uber and Lyft have sent push notifications to riders informing them of discounted fares, which some have interpreted as an effort to undermine the strike. "We've seen this before: When we held our strike at JFK airport to protest the Muslim ban, Uber turned off surge pricing to try to break our strike," said Desai. "Uber’s attempt to break our strike backfired then and it won't work now."
The strike comes as the app-based companies have found themselves on the losing side of multiple battles with their own workforce, a group that numbers more than 65,000 in New York City. Last week, a lawsuit filed by Lyft against the city's newly enacted minimum wage rules for drivers was tossed by a state judge. Prior to the minimum wage law, 85 percent of local for-hire vehicle drivers were making less than $15 an hour, according to the city.
Both Uber and Lyft have also now stopped hiring new workers—a result of a cap passed last summer, which had broad support from drivers, who say the glut of for-hire vehicles on city streets in recent years has depressed wages.
Still, drivers say that the ongoing destabilization of the for-hire driving economy is far from over, and has continued to fuel a rise in suicides. On Tuesday morning, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and the Independent Drivers Guild unveiled a mental health and wellness program "in response to an epidemic of for-hire vehicle driver suicides and desperation among drivers across the city."
According to some workers, conditions at Uber have become increasingly precarious in recent months, as the company has rushed to demonstrate efficiency ahead of its public offering, reducing bonus payments and increasing the size of the cut the company takes from each fare.
"I think the people on Wall Street said don’t give drivers more incentives, because they’re already making enough money," said one Uber driver, who plans to participate in Wednesday's strike and asked to remain anonymous for fear of getting cut off from accepting fares via the Uber app. "They used to take 10 percent, then 20 percent, now they take almost 30 percent from us." (The company maintains that new Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations have limited their ability to offer incentives to drivers.)
In reality, the driver said, he works nearly every day, and doesn't make close to the $90,000 salary that Uber once claimed as a median income. He noted that he left his job as an accountant almost two years ago, only to realize that "Uber lies about everything." The company, which has never turned a profit and continues to lose money on every ride, indicated in its SEC filings that future profits could be in the "trillions" of dollars.
But while Uber plans to reserve about 3 percent of its total offering for workers, not everyone is interested in investing. "As an accountant, I know it's a waste of money," the unnamed driver told Gothamist. "It's not going to work."
A spokesperson for Uber declined to comment due to a "quiet period" ahead of the IPO. Lyft did not immediately respond to Gothamist's inquiries.
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