From 7 to 9 a.m. on May 8, drivers in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Boston, San Diego and more participated in the nationwide strike.
Drivers for the app-based for-hire vehicle (FHV) companies are considered independent contractors and often make less than minimum wage. In addition to higher wages, drivers also demanded better job security, benefits and working conditions.
Throughout the day, members of New York City’s Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) rallied in front of the Falchi Building in Long Island City, where Uber and Lyft have driver hubs.
Brendan Sexton, executive director of the IDG, said the nationwide strike and rallies were organized to coincide with Uber stock going public on Friday. According to reports, the e-hail company expects to be worth up to $90 billion when it starts selling shares.
Lyft went public last month at a $24 billion valuation.
“The only way they were able to be valued so high was on the backs of drivers,” Sexton said. “Drivers have consistently been pushed to poverty wages.”
Corona resident Aziz Bah, who has been a FHV driver for the last five years, said he’s seen his wages steadily decrease. When he first started in 2014, he said he made “decent money.”
“You worked less hours, made decent money and spent time with your family, which was totally valuable,” Bah said. “That was the whole plan.”
He blamed the greed of app companies for oversaturating city markets with vehicles, which reduces the number of driver trips and leads to lower pay per hour.
To make up for it, drivers are spending more time working.
“Now I’m on the road 12 to 14 hours a day,” Bah said. “That’s pretty hard.”
Kevin Killelea, a driver from Bellerose, has experienced similar difficulties. In addition to the long hours, he said drivers in New York City are also constantly dealing with traffic and worrying about getting tickets from the police.
They also have to pay for vehicle maintenance, insurance and a TLC license.
“All of that adds up, it’s expensive and it cuts into your profits,” he said. “It’s a hard way to make a living.”
Last December, the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) adopted new rules creating a minimum pay standard for drivers. According to a report commissioned by the TLC, drivers would receive a 22.5 percent increase in net pay to roughly $17.22 an hour.
According to the report, 85 percent of current drivers are paid below that standard. They would earn an additional $6,345 per year. The rules were implemented on February 1.
Sexton said the pay floor has already had an immediate impact in just two months. Drivers have earned a collective $56 million.
“That’s $56 million that normally would have gone back to Silicon Valley,” he said. “Instead, it’s going to stay in the pockets of New Yorkers.
“After IDG won the battle for floor pay here in New York City,” Sexton added, “the rest of the country saw that when we organize, when we work together, we can create better pay and better working conditions.”
Bah said he felt empowered by the driver strike. Drivers are letting everyone, from riders and the companies to elected officials, know how much they’ve suffered, he said.
“Finally, drivers are coming together and understanding that this is our fight,” he said.
His message to Uber, Lyft and the other e-hail companies is that they need to take care of and empower their drivers.
“Those are the guys who run your business,” Bah said. “Happy employees mean great service.”
Killelea added that he hopes the tech companies will better appreciate the drivers. He even suggested that corporate executives should try driving for a living and “see how much they like it.”
“We’ll switch positions for a month,” he said. “We’ll tell you how much we enjoy it.”
Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said in a statement that thousands of app drivers participated in the strike. She said the alliance felt “triumphant” about the action.
“Drivers reported that Uber was offering more than two-times pay incentives this morning, so we know the strike had an impact,” she said. “Drivers know the power of our collective labor, and this is just the beginning.”
An Uber spokesperson said the company did not see any significant impact on the reliability of their service, such as wait times, percentage of trips surged or number of drives online, compared to the monthly average.
“Drivers are at the heart of our service, and we can’t succeed without them,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We’ll continue working to improve drivers’ experience for and with them, every day.”