Uber and Lyft drivers are planning a two-hour strike in several major cities around the world on Wednesday, an effort that is meant to coincide with Uber’s forthcoming IPO. Labor groups organizing the strike are protesting the companies’ payment and labor practices, and they hope to stymie the ride-hail apps during the crucial morning rush hour on the day before Uber is expected to debut on the public markets.
Ride-hail drivers in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles are scheduled to go on strike from 7AM to 9AM on Wednesday, May 8th, according to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Drivers in several cities in the UK, including London, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Glasgow, are also participating in the work stoppage, according to The Independent. Uber is expected to go public at an eye-popping $90 billion valuation on May 9th.
The alliance says its workers are demanding fewer driver deactivations, an end to upfront pricing, and a cap on the per-fare commission taken by ride-hail companies. “The gig economy is all about exploiting workers by taking away our rights,” said Sonam Lama, an Uber driver since 2015 and a member of the alliance. “It has to stop.”
The planned strikes appear to be more organized and geographically diverse than the protests that met Lyft’s IPO in late March, which were mostly localized in California. It makes sense, though, considering Uber is much bigger than Lyft and its IPO is expected to be the largest since Alibaba’s in 2014.
Even some Democratic presidential candidates are getting in on the action:
Uber says it can't pay its drivers more money, but rewarded its CEO with nearly $50 million last year. People who work for multibillion-dollar companies should not have to work 70 or 80 hours a week to get by. I stand with the Uber and Lyft drivers going on strike on May 8.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 3, 2019
Uber knows it has a driver problem. In its filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission declaring its intention to go public last month, Uber said that driver dissatisfaction was likely to increase as the company sought to reduce the amount of money it spends on driver incentives. “Further, we are investing in our autonomous vehicle strategy, which may add to Driver dissatisfaction over time, as it may reduce the need for Drivers,” the company notes.
Uber and Lyft drivers in New York City got an earnings bump recently when the city council approved a bill requiring ride-hail companies to pay drivers at least $17.22 an hour. The new wage law relies on a so-called “utilization rate,” which accounts for the share of time a driver spends with passengers in their vehicles compared to the time spent idle and waiting for a fare.
An Uber spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment, while a spokesperson for Lyft said that driver wages have gone up over the last two years. Neither company would say whether they planned to use cash incentives to entice drivers to break the strike.
Uber has a complicated history with driver strikes. In January 2017, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance announced a strike at JFK Airport to protest President Donald Trump’s ban on refugees from six Muslim-majority countries. Uber was accused of breaking the strike, sparking backlash from riders who tweeted photos of themselves deleting the Uber app with the hashtag #DeleteUber. The backlash lasted for weeks, priming the pump for a series of self-imposed scandals and executive purges from which Uber is still recovering.
That said, it is extremely difficult to organize a strike among a group as disparate and diffuse as Uber and Lyft drivers. While there is sure to be a significant chunk of drivers logging off of ride-hail apps during the strike, it remains likely that others will see it as an opportunity to cash in on the disruption. Drivers are classified as independent contractors, and as such, tend to act in their own best self interest.