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Uber and Lyft drivers strike at LAX: ‘We’re being paid starving wages’

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Drivers in LA are calling for a $28 hourly rate

Uber and Lyft drivers picketing in front of the arrivals level at LAX
Photo by Elijah Chiland

Uber and Lyft drivers in Los Angeles launched a 24-hour strike today to protest wages they say are too low to make ends meet.

The strike is one of many protests planned across the nation this week in advance of Uber’s long-anticipated initial public offering on Friday. Several dozen protestors picketed in front of the arrivals terminal at Los Angeles International Airport Wednesday, waving to passing cars and heckling ride-hail drivers who disregarded the strike.

“We’re being paid starving wages,” says Laurel Hirschmann, a strike organizer who’s been driving with Uber for 1.5 years “When I started with Uber I was making five grand every month.”

Now, says Hirschmann, she’s driving every day of the week and bringing in $3,000 per month. “After an $800 monthly gas bill, not to mention the car maintenance, that’s $2,000.”

The company announced plans last month to award cash bonuses to longtime drivers, but Rideshare Drivers United, an LA-based coalition of Uber and Lyft drivers, is asking for a longer-term commitment to higher pay.

In line with a minimum pay requirement now in effect in New York City, drivers in LA are asking for a guaranteed $28 hourly rate, which they say amounts to $17 after necessary auto expenses.

Earlier this year, Uber restructured its pay formula for Los Angeles drivers, cutting per-mile rates by 25 percent. That move inspired a day-long strike in March outside of the companies Redondo Beach offices.

About 100 drivers rallied at a park near at LAX before marching back to the airport’s arrivals level.
Elijah Chiland

Uber driver Rosalinda Cabrera says low wages are only part of the problem. She says the company’s practice of treating drivers as independent contractors—rather than employees—leaves drivers with little recourse if Uber suspends their account.

“One complaint from one rider and you can be let go,” says Cabrera. “There’s no recourse. This person might be the primary rent payer for a whole family. How does the company have the right to do that?”

In documents submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Uber estimates that nearly one-quarter of its business comes from just five cities, including Los Angeles; 15 percent comes from trips to and from an airport.

“We provide an essential service, but Uber and Lyft investors are only ones reaping the benefits,” Lyft driver Karim Bayumi said in a statement.

In a statement released Wednesday, an Uber spokesperson said that the company is working to improve the experience of drivers.

“Drivers are at the heart of our service─we can’t succeed without them,” reads the statement. “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 strike is scheduled until 12 a.m. Thursday. A simultaneous strike is underway at San Diego International Airport, and shorter actions are also planned in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and other U.S. cities.

James Hicks, another strike organizer who’s driven for Uber for three years, says he hopes the demonstrations will catch the attention of the company’s executives as they prepare for Friday’s IPO.

He says potential investors should also be taking note, after Lyft’s underwhelming arrival on the stock market earlier this year.

“We don’t want Uber to go bankrupt,” says Hicks. “The gig economy is not really our enemy. We don’t want to kill it, we just want it to be regulated.”