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Uber and Lyft strike: Los Angeles drivers are fighting back against wage cuts

The union says conditions are so dire that some full-time drivers are homeless.

by Rex Santus
Mar 25 2019, 10:06pm

Uber and Lyft drivers in the Los Angeles area are striking through Monday night in protest of Uber slashing per-mile pay rates by 25 percent, from 80 cents to just 60 cents.

Rideshare Drivers United-Los Angeles (RDU-LA), which says it represents 2,800 drivers in the city, staged the strike to reverse the recent wage cut and to demand that all ride-sharing platforms institute a minimum hourly pay rate of $28. Drivers are picketing until 3 p.m. in Los Angeles, one of the biggest markets for ride-sharing in the U.S., but the strike calls for a 25-hour driver and passenger boycott of Uber and Lyft — one hour for each percent in wage cuts. The strike began at midnight and will conclude at 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Video appeared to show hundreds of drivers participating in the picket line at the Uber Greenlight Hub in Redondo Beach.

Uber and Lyft, both multibillion-dollar companies, did not respond to VICE News’ inquiries about whether they expected the strike to affect passenger travel. An Uber spokesperson tried to play up the introduction of a new promotional feature for drivers introduced alongside the per-mile pay cut. A Lyft spokesperson said that “vast majority of drivers use Lyft as a temporary source of extra money.” Lyft and Uber are both expected to break into the public market in the coming weeks with initial public offerings.

A big reason ride-sharing drivers are upset with Uber and Lyft is related to their worker status as “independent contractors,” rather than employees. This classification affords ride-sharing giants much more leeway for cutting wages and altering working conditions. It’s far more difficult and risky for independent contractors to form labor unions because they are not protected under most federal labor laws.

The striking drivers have gotten the attention of some big-name progressives, including 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, who tweeted in support of the fledgling ride-sharing union.

“I stand with Uber and Lyft drivers striking in LA,” Sanders tweeted Monday. “One job should be enough to make a decent living in America, especially for those working for multibillion-dollar companies. Drivers must be paid the wages they deserve.”

Drivers say current rates are causing them to live in poverty. The union says that conditions are so dire that some full-time drivers are homeless.

“I work 12- to 14-hour days, seven days per week, and still struggle to make enough to put gas in the car and buy food,” said one driver, Sinakhone Keodora, who rents his car to drive from Uber. “It costs me 25 dollars per day to stay at a Korean spa, and sometimes I don’t make that. Then, like many other drivers, I need to sleep in my car.”

In December, New York drivers won a huge victory when New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to enact a minimum hourly pay standard of $17 after a two-year union campaign. It was a moment of hope for New York cab drivers, who are grappling with a suicide epidemic that’s been linked to the rise in ride-sharing popularity. Traditional cabbies say their livelihoods were uprooted when Uber and Lyft saturated the New York City cab market and depleted the value of official taxi medallions. A cabbie took his own life Saturday, at least the ninth to do so in New York City in just the last year.

Worker rebellion against ride-sharing companies isn't confined to major cities in the U.S. Taxi drivers in Canada’s Quebec province also went on a 12-hour strike Monday to protest legislation that would deregulate the taxi industry and allow Uber and Lyft to prosper at the expense of driver livelihood.

Cover: Uber legal case. File photo dated 31/08/16 of an Uber car. Black cab drivers have lost a High Court challenge against Uber's London operating licence, after senior judges rejected their claims of bias. Issue date: Tuesday February 26, 2019. -Laura Dale/PA Wire URN:41447596 (Press Association via AP Images)

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