Uber drivers

The upcoming initial public offering for ride-hailing app Uber is expected to bring a financial windfall to investors. The company expects to raise $9 billion as it goes public, and is called a “unicorn” in financial circles — meaning its value at the time of going public exceeds $1 billion. But as the unicorn rushes to market, it tramples the workers that serve as the company’s backbone, Uber drivers argue.

“Uber is paying drivers poverty wages and continues to slash wages while executives make millions,” said labor organizer Shona Clarkson.

Clarkson is a lead organizer for Gig Workers Rising, which is supporting a massive strike ahead of Uber’s IPO, to be held on May 8th. Gig Workers Rising is a community of app and platform workers for services like Uber, TaskRabbit or InstaCart advocating for living wages and greater transparency in the big tech sector that oversees them.

In Los Angeles and San Diego, Rideshare Drivers United is also backing the strike.

“The pay system has gone downhill from where Uber started to what it is now,” said former Uber driver Bnie Tesfaye. “Because they have a thing called flat rate, where the driver gets based price…doesn’t matter what the passenger pays.”

The strike will be held in Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia, but some drivers in other cities like Minneapolis have pledged to strike in solidarity.

It can be hard for ride-hailing drivers to earn a living wage. Drivers often spend large portions of their day waiting on a rider to request services — drivers can spend as much as half of their workday without a passenger, and therefore without pay. These long, underpaid and stressful hours can lead to physical tolls on drivers.

And the looming threat of automation is a particularly acute concern for drivers, as Uber is keenly interested in eliminating the driver altogether.

But some drivers are skeptical that even a high-profile strike on the eve of a “unicorn” IPO for Uber will accomplish anything.

“I don’t believe that for this industry it will work. Especially here in D.C.,” said Uber and Lyft driver Shona Barnes. “People may start to strike, but when they see the surge, they are going to want to go out there and get their money.”

The strike will be May 8th, followed by Uber’s expected pricing May 9th and public offering May 10th.


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.

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