As independent contractors, rideshare drivers are unable to bargain as a union for better wages and work conditions with the companies they work for. It’s that right that drivers across the state will strike for on Wednesday.
“Drivers know what they’re getting paid per mile, but the companies can change it at an instant, and the drivers have no say,” said organizer Brian Dolber, also the co-editor of “The Gig Economy: Workers and Media in the Age of Convergence.” “So, that’s why we need a union, so we can make sure that drivers have a say in their pay.”
So, too, for work conditions, he and other organizers added.
The rally, planned for 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday outside the Uber headquarters at 1725 Third St., is hosted by Rideshare Drivers United, an association of some 20,000 drivers across the state with branches in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. There are also plans for strikes in Las Vegas, Denver, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the organization said.
The strike is planned for 24 hours, beginning Tuesday night at midnight; organizers also ask that passengers boycott the companies through Wednesday. Organizers phone-banked members about the strike, and Dolber said it has received overwhelming support.
Drivers will advocate for the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, better known as the PRO Act, which would ultimately allow them to unionize with recognition from Uber and Lyft. Organizers hope that striking will draw attention to the cause and pressure Congress to pass the legislation, which is currently held up in the Senate with a filibuster.
Beyond the PRO Act advocacy, drivers are protesting against their working conditions and the passage of Proposition 22, the legislation written and lobbied for by gig-work giants that passed last November, codifying rideshare drivers and delivery workers as independent contractors.
No other strikes are currently planned, but Rideshare Drivers United is continuing to organize drivers and build relationships with drivers in cities outside the state, Dolber said. The plan, he added, is to continue the fight, which may lead to more strikes down the road.
Pay, Expenses and Work Conditions
At the forefront of concerns are the wages earned by drivers compared to the expenses they pay. How much a driver makes is unclear, and figures given vary wildly.
In April, Uber said drivers were paid a median of $25.28 an hour in San Francisco, before tips or bonuses, for completing quests. Last week, Uber told Mission Local that drivers made median earnings of $34 per hour and $46 per hour when including the incentives.
Rideshare Drivers United points to a decrease in rates, such as Uber’s dropping the mileage rate from 68 cents to 42 cents for trips starting from San Francisco International Airport, and dropping its mileage rate from 65 cents to 32 cents for trips starting at Los Angeles International Airport.
The association also points to a large-scale study in San Francisco, published last May, that concluded that once expenses and unpaid work time is accounted for, a substantial portion of the rideshare and delivery workforce in San Francisco made less than $15.59 an hour, the minimum wage at the time of the study. It was conducted by the UC Santa Cruz Institute for Social Transformation before the pandemic with ridesharing and delivery workers in San Francisco.
In an unscientific sampling of 20 rides Mission Local booked last week, most drivers said they totalled around $25 to $35 an hour before expenses, give or take a few dollars. Most of those interviewed who worked as a rideshare driver before the pandemic said they were earning around the same amount, with a few saying they earned more, and a few saying they earned less.
What drivers do agree on is that their expenses are costly. Rising gas prices mean many drivers daily are paying around $50 in gas, and some up to $65, drivers told Mission Local. That’s not accounting for vehicles’ wear and tear; depreciation adds up to 26 cents per mile using the IRS mileage rate (a total of 56 cents per mile).
Also, drivers took issue with how Uber calculates active time driving to then come up with its per-hour figure.
For example, when counting “active time,” the application excludes time spent without a ride or a ride request. Some drivers also turn their applications off when they circle back to San Francisco after being sent far away, to avoid being kept in other cities.
Ibrahim Diallo, an Uber driver and a member of Rideshare Drivers United, said his application showed he earned $1,580 before expenses in a recent week, over about 39 hours online — about $40 an hour. However, Diallo said, he worked 10 to 15 hours longer than the application reflected.
Moreover, workers aren’t paid for time spent waiting for their next ride, said Hashid Kasama, a gig worker and volunteer organizer who helped conduct outreach for the strike.
Not getting paid for wiping down and maintaining a vehicle is like “a chef at a restaurant cooking meals, and when customers leave … you’re not getting paid for idle time in between customers, like wiping down the tables,” Kasama said. “That’s what it’s like being a gig worker or [doing] any app-based type of work.”
There’s also Mission Local’s unscientific sampling, which found that, of the 20 rides we booked, drivers pocketed an average of just 52 percent of the fare, whereas the rideshare companies have touted that their bite of the pie is only about 25 percent.
Then, there are the work conditions that drivers have no control over: Uber took away drivers’ ability to add their own fare multiplier in California; Uber hides trip details for the next ride if a driver declines five of the last 10 rides; Uber tells drivers that riders’ fares are lower than they are; Lyft doesn’t show drivers a fee breakdown per ride beyond what drivers make; many drivers report that driver support is extremely lackluster.
It’s this, and that, and that, and drivers don’t necessarily agree on what’s right or wrong — but what drivers are united in, in their strike, is that if they could unionize, they could at least bargain for their own conditions.
Healthcare Through Proposition 22
The strike is also a protest against Proposition 22, which — beyond codifying rideshare drivers’ statuses as independent contractors — drivers say did little for their healthcare, despite the companies’ widely promoting the proposition’s healthcare stipend.
The stipend covers 82 percent of the average Covered California premium each month for those who drive an average of 25 hours a week in a quarter; those averaging 15 to 24 hours per week in a calendar quarter receive 41 percent of that premium. However, this only counts “engaged” time — that is, time with a customer in the car — so the amount workers must drive to qualify is longer than it sounds.
Lyft told Mission Local that drivers can receive up to $4,800 in healthcare payments per year. Also according to Lyft, 77 percent of the company’s drivers already have health coverage from other full-time employment.
Although it is hard to find drivers who are enthusiastic about the benefits, rideshare companies can.
“The flexibility and higher earnings that Prop 22 provided are incredibly valuable to me, and hundreds of thousands of drivers like me,” wrote Jimmy Strano, a Bay Area rideshare driver, in a statement forwarded to Mission Local by Geoff Vetter, a public affairs representative with the coalition around Proposition 22.
However, health stipend opportunities have been called into question by rideshare and delivery drivers.
It’s inaccessible to drivers who receive insurance from family members or through MediCal or MediCare. Also, drivers must submit proof of their health insurance within a certain time frame to qualify, but a study performed by Tulchin Research and commissioned by SEIU showed that just 79 percent of drivers were unaware (67 percent) or unsure (12 percent) of the requirement.
The April study concluded that 86 percent of 500 surveyed rideshare and delivery drivers in California were likely ineligible for the stipend “largely due to unilateral and non-statutory decisions by gig companies.” About two-thirds of drivers reported not being given enough information about how to apply, while three-fifths reported they weren’t given adequate information about which drivers are eligible.
“Prop. 22 was a lie, and everyone was told that we were going to have all of this flexibility and these medical benefits, and we want to raise awareness about the fact that the public was lied to,” said Erica Mighatto, a representative board member for the San Francisco chapter of Rideshare Drivers United.
Drivers are also protesting Proposition 22 because drivers have seen their agency reduced since its passage — from Uber’s previously mentioned removal of drivers’ fare multiplier, to the companies making it so that drivers can’t see where their next ride goes if they decline five of the past 10 rides.
The PRO Act
The PRO Act, now in Congress, uses the same test for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee as the test codified in Assembly Bill 5, but this is specifically for the purposes of collective bargaining, said Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.
Therefore, he said, it would not affect workers’ status for the purpose of other federal laws, such as taxes or minimum wage.
The act, said Jacobs, creates a system in which workers have the democratic right to choose if they want a union in their workplace and then bargain collectively with their employers. That new system would recognize this as a right and a decision of workers rather than employers.
Opponents such as the App-Based Work Alliance, which includes the two ridesharing companies, say the test provision in the PRO Act “would end flexible and independent earning opportunities for millions of app-based workers overnight and wreak havoc on the economy by forcing these workers into an employment model.”
But that’s not accurate, according to Jacobs.
“I think it’s sort of silly,” he said of the argument that the Pro ACT would remove drivers’ flexibility. “The PRO Act is focused on labor law, and so the focus on rideshare drivers or on gig workers, particularly, is on the right for workers to bargain collectively.”
He added that flexibility is one of the things that a union could bargain over. Also, he said, the current system for union recognition is heavily stacked against workers.
“The majority of workers can want a union, but we have a legal framework that makes it very difficult for them to achieve it,” he said.
The PRO Act is what John Logan, director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University, calls “a sprawling piece of legislation that captures many provisions labor advocates have pushed for for decades.”
It would also be the most significant labor reform law passed since the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. However, due to the filibuster, Logan said, the odds of its passing are very low.
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