A large group of people holding flags
The International Congress of Gig Workers. Photo taken by Yujie Zhou, April 27, 2023.

Ride-hailing and food-delivery workers from 15 countries rallied at San Francisco International Airport and Uber headquarters Thursday to demand better treatment from gig platforms. The demonstration came on the last day of the gathering of the nascent International Congress of Gig Workers. 

“What we say is, if you conquer your labor rights in Argentina, we’ll leave Argentina and go to Paraguay, and go to another country. We must chase them in every corner of the world,” said Emilse, a motorcycle delivery worker who flew in from Argentina and was one of the organizers of the International Congress hosted by SEIU Local 721.

The new international group kicked off a week of organizing on Monday with protests in Los Angeles before coming up to San Francisco on Thursday.

For Emilse and the SiTraRepA, which represents thousands of delivery workers in Argentina, this first U.S. trip marked “a new stage in this fight.” Around her, some hundred workers from Asia, South America, Europe and California, waving flags representing organizations around the world, occupied a large portion of an airport parking lot designated for ride-hailing pick-ups and drop-offs. 

While each country has different dominant platforms, “If we win in one country, that strengthens the fight in every other country,” Emilse said. 

The gathering came one month after a California appeals court decided to uphold the main language of Proposition 22, a California ballot measure that classifies platform workers as independent contractors, rather than employees.

“We want to show our strength by shutting down one of their major, major hubs where Uber and Lyft operate out of,” said Kristin A. Hardy, San Francisco regional vice president of SEIU Local 1021, which last Friday appealed the Prop. 22 decision to the California Supreme Court.

Other drivers told Mission Local that not only were they occupying the airport parking lot, they had also turned off their apps in a work stoppage. Supervisor Dean Preston also appeared at the rally to express support.

The SFO TNC Staging Lot 3 is the largest of the three airport ride-hailing lots, with around 150 parking spaces. Since its reopening, the lot has drawn drivers frustrated by the low demand in downtown San Francisco to park at the airport and wait for rides.

Waiting at the airport

But behind the demonstrators, Uber and Lyft drivers were, as usual, waiting for pick-ups. Mohammed Abdelrahman was number 20 in the Uber X queue. Nhan Nguyen, number 45 in the app’s Uber Comfort queue, was sitting in his trunk, enjoying boiled peanuts and sunshine. He spends most of his 12-to-15-hour days waiting at the airport. “But most of the time I am in the car, I’m not doing anything,” said the father of two.  

“If you do the math, it’s not going to work,” he said unhurriedly. “But we can’t do anything. I can’t do anything. You want to make money, so you have to do it.”

A person sitting in the trunk of a car
Uber driver Nhan Nguyen waits at the airport. Photo taken by Yujie Zhou, April 27, 2023.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the lot, protestors chanted, “You can’t buy democracy. Protect us. Pay us.” 

“We are asking for dignity and respect. We are asking for them to stop unfair deactivation,” Brandon Dawkins, vice president of organizing for SEIU Local 1021, told the crowd. “We are asking for Uber and Lyft to pay you all a living wage so that you all can feed your families.”

As of publication time, neither Uber nor Lyft replied to requests for comment. A statement from Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Coalition, which includes Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, said, “The Gig Workers Congress does not represent the views of the overwhelming majority of drivers that support Prop 22 and their ability to continue working as independent contractors with new benefits. Nearly 80% of drivers surveyed say they prefer independent, flexible work. And nearly 60% of voters passed Prop 22 to protect drivers’ rights to work independently.”

Shortly after noon, workers caravanned to Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco’s Mission Bay, where both Lyft and DoorDash’s headquarters are within easy reach.

“We’re happy to see all people stand up and wake up so that we can motivate the youth,” said Sebban Anuar, founder of Belgian group Coursiers en Lutte, through an interpreter. Anuar added, “We want to be heard too, we want to block the road too.”

Yu-An Chan, chairman of the National Delivery Industrial Union, an organization formed in Taiwan in 2021 in response to wage cuts at Foodpanda and Uber Eats, agreed, and hopes the International Congress will double its membership to 30 countries next year. Other plans include choosing a day that all cultures can identify with, such as making Dec. 31 “International Delivery Day.”

Emilse, from Argentina, admired the organization of U.S. gig workers and said her union, the SiTraRepA, is struggling, unrecognized by the Argentine government and unfunded. Hong Kong, too, faces challenges in forming a union.

“We spend our own money for organizing. We have to spend our own time. And of course, we cannot get the funding from overseas, We are just going to be in big trouble,” said Ahmed, a representative of delivery workers in Hong Kong who came with the local nonprofit Riders’ Rights Concern Group.

One person standing
Ahmed, a representative of delivery workers in Hong Kong. Photo taken by Yujie Zhou, April 27, 2023.

Nevertheless, the Hong Kong workers managed to launch a productive two-day strike that led Foodpanda, one of the city’s two dominant food delivery platforms, to make changes.

Although it is tough, he said, “If you have 50-60 percent [of workers] supporters, you can shut them down.”

A large group of people holding flags
The International Congress of Gig Workers. Photo taken by Yujie Zhou, April 27, 2023.

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REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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