Ride-hail app drivers demand companies ‘Lyft’ wages

New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai speaks at a rally to demand job security and higher wages ahead of Uber’s upcoming initial public offering in Long Island City.  Eagle  photos by Jonathan Sperling.

New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai speaks at a rally to demand job security and higher wages ahead of Uber’s upcoming initial public offering in Long Island City. Eagle photos by Jonathan Sperling.

By Jonathan Sperling

Dozens of drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing app companies took to Long Island City on Wednesday to demand job security and higher wages ahead of Uber’s upcoming initial public offering, which experts predicted could be the largest IPO in history.

The rally, staged in front of Uber and Lyft’s 47th Avenue offices, came just hours after some NYC ride-sharing drivers, also known as “app drivers” staged a strike by logging off of the apps from 7-9 a.m. They also encouraged NYC residents not to use ride-sharing services or cross picket lines during that time.

The strike was held in solidarity with drivers striking around the world, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and London, according to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, the union that organized the NYC-based demonstrations.

Leo Liang shows the Eagle his recent Uber payment history. On a recent 2-mile-long trip through midtown Manhattan, Liang pocketed $13.40, while the passenger paid Uber $22.79, a difference of more than 41 percent.

Leo Liang shows the Eagle his recent Uber payment history. On a recent 2-mile-long trip through midtown Manhattan, Liang pocketed $13.40, while the passenger paid Uber $22.79, a difference of more than 41 percent.

“May 8, 2019, will long be remembered as the day of awakening for millions of app drivers across the globe, and that is something no algorithm can take away from us,” said NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai, who led the rally.

Union members chose this week to logoff the app because Uber’s initial public offering — valued at over $90 billion as of Wednesday — is expected to launch on New York Stock Exchange today.

“Drivers are at the heart of our service — we can’t succeed without them — and thousands of people come into work at Uber every day focused on how to make their experience better, on and off the road,” an Uber spokesperson told media outlets in a statement on Tuesday.

“Whether it’s more consistent earnings, stronger insurance protections or fully-funded four-year degrees for drivers or their families, we’ll continue working to improve the experience for and with drivers,” the spokesperson added, echoing a similar statement issued by Lyft.

A demonstrator holds a sign at the rally criticizing Uber.

A demonstrator holds a sign at the rally criticizing Uber.

Several app drivers with the Independent Drivers Guild, a different union that represents approximately 70,000 for-hire vehicle drivers, also expressed their dismay with low pay and lack of job security while driving for apps such as Uber, Lyft and Juno. Leo Liang and James Cao, both app drivers for around one year, told the Eagle that drivers were often “deactivated,” from Uber — another term for being fired — for working for another ride-sharing application.

“They put all the fault on the driver,” said Liang, who participated in the morning’s strike.

Liang also showed the Eagle his recent Uber payment history to demonstrate drivers’ low wages. On a recent 2-mile-long trip through midtown Manhattan, Liang pocketed $13.40, while the passenger paid Uber $22.79, a difference of more than 41 percent.

When questioned on why the NYTWA did not organize with the IDG, Desai said that the IDG “is financed by Uber.”

“They [the IDG] get paid by Uber and they have a private agreement. It has been reported in that private agreement they have agreed to not strike and also to not challenge Uber’s labor violations. So of course they would never strike, they get paid by the bosses,” Desai continued.

A spokesperson for IDG did not return the Eagle’s request for comment as of press time Wednesday.

A screenshot posted by NYTWA on its Twitter during the strike showed that a portion of the East Village and North Brooklyn had no drivers displayed on the Uber app. However, Uber told a reporter who attended the event that it estimated the morning strike resulted in just 500 drivers logging out of the app between 7-9 a.m. When told this, Desai responded “What is Uber going to say, they’ve got $100 billion on the line.”

An app driver speaks into a megaphone at the rally.

An app driver speaks into a megaphone at the rally.

“Stikes are always hard and corporate America is always willing to make a profit,” Desai continued. “We we got to them. That’s the triumph, we got into their heads.”