Since February 12, 2,000 Uber and Lyft drivers have signed onto a letter to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), demanding one simple improvement to their working conditions: “safe and hygienic” bathrooms.
“We work long hours and deserve better than the six foul-smelling and fly-ridden port-a-potties available to us at the nation’s 2nd busiest airport,” the letter reads. “Don’t treat us like third-class citizens—we’re first-rate professionals that are crucial to LAX’s growth and success.”
The six porta-potties and one hand-washing station available to Lyft and Uber drivers at LAX are notoriously gross—covered in human waste and overflowing with used toilet paper. Some drivers say they’d rather risk bladder infections or peeing themselves than use them. "This is simply unacceptable and disgraceful for an airport that brings in billions in revenue,” the drivers wrote.
On Tuesday, less than two weeks after drivers signed and sent the petition to LAX, the airport’s director of labor relations responded to their requests in an email, promising to “add three units" "along with two external hand-washing stations” by February 28, and to sit down with drivers and discuss their concerns.
“Two thousand drivers signed onto the petition, which indicates how important this issue is to drivers,” Mike Long, an organizer with Mobile Workers Alliance, a network of 15,000 Uber and Lyft drivers in southern California, which helped create the petition, told Motherboard. “There’s no way to clean properly with that many people coming through, and it has real world effects: One driver contracted severe conjunctivitis [pink eye] after using these bathrooms.”
“It’s sad that we had to ask for clean bathrooms in the first place, but it’s still a good step and it’s going to improve sanitary conditions,” said James Wiest, a Lyft driver who organized other drivers to demand clean bathrooms from LAX. “This is an indicative of the larger problem of how Lyft and Uber treat us poorly."
Wiest says he prefers to use the bathrooms at McDonalds and emergency rooms—rather than deal with the porta-potties at LAX.
Three new porta-potties might seem like a small victory. It’s not nearly enough for the thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers who ferry passengers to and from the airport each day. In fact, California labor law requires employers to provide at least one bathroom for every 20 employees.
But because Uber and Lyft classify drivers as contractors and not employees, they can conveniently skirt around providing basic labor rights like bathrooms—not to mention overtime pay, paid sick and vacation days, and compensation for work expenses.
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Restricting bathroom access has become one way that app drivers are reduced to a lower class of workers. As previously reported by Motherboard, Uber has a track record of separating bathrooms for its drivers and employees at its driver support hubs. Meanwhile, food delivery gig workers on platforms like UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates have told Motherboard that restaurants often post signage or tell gig workers that their bathrooms are reserved for customers only, forcing them to relieve themselves outdoors or in bottles in their cars.
“Bathroom access has been an issue for drivers for a while,” said Long, the Mobile Workers Alliance organizer. “It’s time to start dealing with some of [these] issues, and win on these key bread and butter issues in the workplace that make a huge difference.”