A group of people carrying signs
Uber drivers rally ahead of Uber shareholder meeting. Photo taken by Yujie Zhou, May 4, 2023.

Four days before Uber’s annual shareholder meeting, disgruntled Uber drivers filled the streets outside the ride-hailing giant’s headquarters in San Francisco, calling for higher wages and changes to state law. 

The action was one of several across the country that saw hundreds of drivers in six major cities — San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Denver and Seattle — put their jobs on hold to rally, calling additional attention to unsafe working conditions and unfair terminations. California drivers, in particular, took aim at Proposition 22, the voter-approved 2020 ballot measure that kept drivers classified as independent contractors rather than full-time employees.

“You are keeping 60 percent of our money,” Rosalinda Muñoz, an Uber driver and organizer with advocacy group Gig Workers Rising, shouted at the office, where software engineers write the algorithm that determines her pay.

Uber’s revenue grew by 29 percent in the most recent quarter. 

In San Francisco, “ground zero” of the ride-hailing industry, dozens of drivers vented their frustration outside Uber’s Mission Bay headquarters, chanting, “San Francisco, can’t you see what Uber’s done to me, I used to be a human being, now I’m only a machine!” 

They arrived in cars adorned with signs that read, “Uber, pay us what we deserve” and “Prop. 22 is unconstitutional,” honking, blocking and circling the neighborhood. Drivers sat on their cars, waving signs and chanting.

“They charge the customer much more than they pay the driver,” said Sedeq Alshujaa, an Uber driver since 2018. Just last week, Alshujaa took a passenger from the Oakland airport to Mountain View, and realized that he only received $40 of the $95 the customer paid. 

“There’s no way to know how these rides are calculated,” Alshujaa added. 

Transparency is another issue that has taken center stage. In a recent article, Veena Dubal, a professor at the University of California College of the Law, San Francisco, wrote that drivers are “paid different wages, calculated using opaque and ever-changing formulas reflecting individual driver location, behavior, demand, supply, and other factors, for broadly similar work.”

Driving for Uber has sometimes even become a privilege for Alshujaa in recent years; he was blocked from using the app for a year and a half because of a mistake with his middle name. Alshujaa only discovered the reason for his deactivation after numerous attempts to contact Uber; his status as an Arabic speaker might have added to the dilemma. 

A full 36 percent of San Francisco’s ride-hailing and food-delivery drivers are foreign-born, according to 2020 research from the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

And deactivation tends to disproportionately affect ride-hailing drivers of color: In a 2023 survey by gig-worker advocacy groups, 69 percent of drivers of color in the survey reported being deactivated, compared to 57 percent of white drivers.

“This is why I stand here today, speaking in my own name and to represent all drivers, to say that drivers need a union to protect their rights under the law,” said Alshujaa.

One month ago, a California appeals court ruled to uphold the main body of Prop. 22. But the judges also tossed out one section of the ballot measure that prohibits workers from collective bargaining, making unionization a possibility. 

SEIU Local 1021 has appealed the ruling to the California Supreme Court.

  • Two people standing in front of several cars
  • People standing next to cars
  • People standing next to cars
  • A Uber driver's car

In a statement, an Uber spokesperson said that the “vast majority” of Uber drivers in California support the ballot measure because of its “historic protections and benefits,” referencing language in the ballot measure that guarantees drivers at least 120 percent of the local minimum wage. 

The statement is based on a survey conducted by Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Coalition, a group which includes Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. A study conducted by U.C. Berkeley found that, when factoring in waiting time and expenses, drivers’ hourly wage could be as low as $5.64.

Inside Uber headquarters, several office workers in Warriors outfits watched the drivers in silence. Uber currently implements a hybrid work model, requiring all non-remote employees to come into the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Meanwhile, drivers also rallied outside the Los Angeles International Airport. Ceola Luna, a female Uber driver with Rideshare Drivers United, stressed that safety concerns were the main reason for her participation in the action. “I’ve been spit on, hit, touched, thrown drinks on. They grabbed my steering wheel to adjust themselves in the seat. I was totally a sitting duck, and it was scary to be assaulted in those situations,” she said before the rally, in a phone interview.

At least 80 app-based workers have been killed on the job from 2017 to 2022, according to a report by Gig Workers Rising. 

Over the years, Luna gradually learned to “maintain a stance” for self-protection when dealing with passengers, which she described as “hard,” but “part of the job.”

“I try to take control in my body language and my attitude and mannerisms,” she said. “And I try to be the leader of the engagement between me and my passenger, so that I can show them that I’m not afraid. If we have to fight, we’re going to fight.”

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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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1 Comment

  1. Hi I Am an urbur driver in San Antonio, Urbur takes about 55% of our commissions. We are not paid for pick up times, or traffic delays. They have some great weekend promos, 70 trips you may get $200 extra, the problem is they hove trips that are over 30 minutes, you xant even come close. After gas and eating I just about break even fie the Day Thank you Billy Goodman 210-834-6556

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