Also published at Ethics In Tech and Caucus 99 Percent
Scores of spirited demonstrators, including many Uber and Lyft drivers and others showing solidarity, rallied outside Uber headquarters in San Francisco’s Mid-Market district on Wednesday to demand rideshare companies improve driver pay and working conditions.
Holding up a sign lamenting that most drivers got nothing while Uber executives and other high-level investors stand to reap massive windfalls come Friday’s Uber initial public offering, Ann Glatt said she’s “gotten nothing” from the IPO after driving for Lyft for four years. Like many drivers, Glatt said she’s seen her pay decrease, even as she drives longer hours. “In the last few months [pay] has really gone down,” she added.
When asked if she lives in San Francisco, Glatt said she “can’t afford to live here anymore,” and that she used to live in Redwood City, “but I had to move to Sacramento.”
Uber did issue some longtime drivers “appreciation” bonuses ranging from $100-$20,000, the latter for those who have completed at least 30,000 trips. Meanwhile, Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s 8.6 percent stake in the company could be valued at close to $8 billion, based on the company’s expected valuation of $90 billion. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi may wake up $100 million richer on Friday thanks to stock options; this on top of his $45 million salary. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, an early Uber investor who put up $3 million, may reap a $400 million windfall.
Thiago Izabel, an immigrant from Brazil who lives in San Mateo and has been driving for over two years, said that he did receive a $500 bonus from Uber but that over the past few months his pay has significantly decreased. “It’s so much harder to make money and I have to drive so many more hours,” he said. “I feel like I’m not valued.”
After three years of 60-hour weeks, over which time she’s completed some 5,500 Lyft rides, Erica Mighetto has had enough. She drove all the way from Sacramento to express her disgust with the number two rideshare company. “It’s despicable, disgusting and completely unfair,” she said when asked how she feels about the yawning chasm between the wealth of company founders and executives and the drivers on the street.
“Lyft and Uber are building their businesses on the backs of us drivers down on the ground doing the real work,” said Mighetto, who was holding a sign reading “FAREness for drivers.”
“It must be nice for them. You can see them up there just hanging out and literally looking down on us,” she added, pointing to a group of people gathered on a balcony several floors above street level.
“We just want a living wage,” protester Derrick Baker, a former black car driver who has been driving for Uber for two years, shouted into a megaphone. “We want to enjoy a day off every now and then. No driver should have to work seven days a week, 12 hours a day, just to survive, and still not be able to afford health care.” Baker took on the assertion, often heard from Uber and Lyft executives, that rideshare driving isn’t meant to be full-time work. “They say it’s supposed to be a part-time job, but should part-time jobs pay shitty wages?”
“I don’t have a problem with you guys making money,” Baker insisted, looking up toward Uber’s offices in the building behind him. “We just want to make some money too.”
Shahid Buttar, a constitutional attorney and director of grassroots advocacy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who is running for Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) seat in Congress, attended the protest to stand in solidarity with rideshare drivers.
“I’m excited to see these workers taking action,” said Buttar. “As much as tech and the gig economy companies represent an economic boom to this area, they’re certainly not proving to be an economic boom to everyone who is working in the industry. Drivers are the people who are doing the work while companies are getting most of the money and ultimately the drivers are the second-class citizens of Silicon Valley. We can do a lot better than that.”
Buttar added that “the demand for better pay, the demand for benefits, the demand for a seat at the table are all simple worker rights that every American should support.”
San Francisco District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar (D) addressed the demonstrators, decrying the “poor wages and longer and longer hours” that rideshare drivers must work in order to make ends meet. Mar also blasted the “tax breaks at the top while workers are struggling.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Mar stressed, inviting the crowd to imagine “a future when all people benefit from the prosperity” enjoyed by those at the top of the tech pyramid.