Uber Drivers Go Offline in "Global Day of Protest"

As we reported earlier this week, Uber drivers in New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London picketed outside of the company’s offices and turned off their apps yesterday in what drivers are calling a “global day of protest.”

Originally organized by the California App-Based Drivers Association (CADA), the protest has roots in changes announced by Uber this past September, in which the company informed drivers that the “temporary” summer discounts of between 15 and 20 percent for UberX would be kept indefinitely, meaning drivers will earn less per ride. Uber has argued that the price cut has lead to a 10% increase in earnings for drivers, as the discounts have increased demand, leading to more trips for drivers overall. However, drivers say they are making less than $12 an hour after expenses – far less than the more than $25 an hour Uber claims they can earn. A full accounting of these pricing changes can be found in our first post.

In San Francisco, roughly 60 Uber drivers gathered at the company’s offices, carrying signs that read, “Uber is bullying their drivers” and chanting, “Uber, Uber, you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side.” A similar scene could be found in Southern California, where dozens of drivers held signs reading “Uber: 15 Hour Days and Poverty Wages” outside of the company’s Santa Monica offices. Though drivers in New York, Chicago, Seattle and London did not picket in their respective cities, they did turn off the app. As many as one-fifth of Uber’s 10,000 drivers in New York logged out, even though the torrential rain would have allowed drivers to take advantage of Uber’s much debated “surge pricing” scheme that is implemented during bad weather and periods of increased demand. Still, according to Uber, the protest “represents a fraction of all Uber partners” with thousands of drivers still using the app to pick up passengers throughout the day’s protest.

Groups such as CADA continue to proliferate globally, with drivers organizing in London, New York, Seattle and San Francisco over the past several months. By turning off their apps, CADA, the London Private Hire App-based Drivers Associations (LPHADA), and the Uber Drivers Network NYC are hoping to bring Uber to the bargaining table, as Uber has thus far refused to meet with these new groups to discuss the drivers’ grievances. As the drivers continue to organize, Uber maintains that its platform continues to “provide the tools for drivers to build their own small business.” But drivers claim that their move towards organizing has led Uber to retaliate by deactivating those who are critical of the company. They point to the driver who was recently fired for a tweet that Uber perceived as being critical of the company, however, Uber later reinstated the driver after the story went viral and led to backlash.

These protests continue to raise the much larger, and perhaps more dangerous question for Uber, of whether these drivers are being correctly classified as independent contractors. In our next post on Uber, we will explore the implications of this system, and what changes the several class-action suits filed against Uber may bring about.

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