These gig-worker advocates are fighting for better wages for drivers

These gig-worker advocates are fighting for better wages for drivers: Here’s what they’re demanding.

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It’s been about a year since Uber and Lyft went forward with their public offerings. Literally riding on the backs of drivers, they got all kinds of benefits from public funding, and leapt into further efforts to pump up their profits. 

Still, they gave the people who worked for them, as “independent contractors,” no benefits, no minimum hourly wage, and very little protection from economic and physical disasters.

As far back as 2015, rideshare and delivery drivers in different cities formed groups and staged protests against unfair company policies. The public offerings of 2019 inspired more groups to form, and pushed all of them to grow. Now, with the problems that emerged due to the recent pandemic, the gig workers’ movement is ready to blast off.

Organizations with the interests of gig workers foremost in mind gathered on the actual anniversary of Uber’s offering, May 8th, at a “vIrtual rally.” The COVID-19 pandemic kept them from meeting in person, but social distancing also encouraged them to join forces in a world-wide ZOOM meeting! They presented reports on their progress, and took the time to advance an agenda to address more recent issues.They also revealed how they hope to shape a more hopeful future.

In this blog post, we’re going to clue you in on the virtual rally, and tell you:

  • Where drivers can watch the “virtual rally”
  • Who was there
  • What the groups want 
  • What the gig worker advocate platform stands for
  • How much progress they’ve made so far
  • What’s coming next

Where can drivers watch the virtual rally?

Drivers can watch the virtual rally below.

Who was there?

Centered in Chicago, Lenny Sanchez of Gig Workers Matter/Chicago Rideshare advocates organized the event. He was joined by representatives of groups in his own hometown, and others in Boston, Philadelphia, Colorado, California, New York, Melbourne, Australia, Panama City, and Nigeria.

What do the groups want?

In general, the groups want gig workers to have the support – financial and otherwise. 

This means anything from a basic minimum hourly wage, health insurance, sick pay, and unemployment insurance to universal income assistance for non-U.S. citizens, equipment such as PPE, and hazard pay.

The list of items drivers desire grew, both in size and urgency, when COVID-19 came into the picture. “Privileges “ such as sick pay and help for healthcare and notices for health hazards became “necessities” within days of the outbreak. The raison d’etre for advocacy groups and their collective mission became unquestionable by that point in time.

At the May 8th virtual rally, Chicago Rideshare Advocates’ rep, Laurie Simmons, offered a definitive list of demands:

  1. Lobby state legislature to disallow new worker classification categories that would permit corporations to avoid their responsibility to protect workers.
  2. In light of the COVID-19 crisis and what may happen in the future, a minimum 4 weeks’ universal sick pay, expanded to cover existing conditions and family care. This should amount to 100% of average weekly earnings for the last 4 months. 
  3. In emergencies, such as the 2020 pandemic, $50 per hour hazard pay, PPE, training on hazards and best practices for handling them, healthcare coverage, notification of hazards, and a 24-hour hotline for reporting hazards, and help with applying for sick pay and/or unemployment in the event of exposure.
  4. Universal income assistance to close the gaps that exist due to immigration status; and immediate, permanent expansion to at base employees for Unemployment Insurance in every state.
  5. Immediate expansion of Medicaid to all at base workers.
  6. Additional national stimulus extended to all at base workers.

She also spoke to the woeful condition of the state-level Unemployment Insurance websites and computer systems, which made it difficult if not impossible to receive newly-instated CARES act unemployment benefits. Thousands of drivers had problems and questions, and when they reached out, didn’t find anyone to answer them on the other end of their communication devices.

Representatives from other states brought out the importance of these and additional issues. In New York, Michelle, an organizer for Independent Drivers Guild (an affiliate of the Machinists Union), emphasized the need for organizing to continue some of the work they’ve already done to prevent wage cuts and stop exploitation by the companies.

In Boston, Felipe Martinez says they are working on the issue of misclassification, the companies’ practice, or treating drivers as “independent contractors.” They want to organize a union, without the corporations being involved in those unions, so the group would have the ability to negotiate with the rideshare corporations.

In Colorado, the Colorado Independent Drivers United group is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America. They want to develop a strong voice on the state level, standardizing pay, capping driver limits, getting companies to account for summary deactivations, and to begin to address the issues of driverless cars.

Edan Oliva of Gig Workers Rising spoke for drivers in the San Francisco Bay area. They successfully lobbied state government to get Assembly Bill 5 passed. This bill requires the rideshare companies to classify their workers as employees. (You can read more on this topic here.)

This group wants to continue to build coalitions, and empower essential workers, during COVID-19 and beyond, and help drivers get unemployment benefits, where they can. 

Philadelphia also has an extremely active drivers’ group, It’s called the Philadelphia Drivers Union, and Ali Razak described their efforts to organize, with the ultimate goal of forming a union. They want to stand together to protest the lack of labor and transportation law enforcement on the part of the companies, and address the issue of unwarranted deactivation.

All of the groups spoke of the need to connect with other drivers and to organize so that one day the dream of collective bargaining with the gig economy companies can finally be achieved. 

What does their platform stand for?

As you can see, there are different U.S. cities represented in the movement, and this virtual gathering even included participants from Nigeria, Australia, and Panama City. Drivers share many concerns in common, particularly when it comes to taking a stand with the companies they work for.

One organizer put it very well, mentioning that drivers need to stop believing Uber, Lyft, and other gig economy companies are our masters, and we, their slaves. Instead, we need to see that the rideshare and delivery drivers ARE these companies. If we stop working, so does their business.

Taking in the concerns from all the different groups, the gig worker advocate platform can be summarized like this:

  1. Promote legislation that prohibits companies from using the “independent contractor” option with their drivers, forcing them to classify them as “employees,” with all the benefits that come with that classification.
  2. Push for minimum hourly wage, sick pay, unemployment insurance, disability coverage, hazard pay, safety training and equipment.
  3. Educate drivers by offering safety classes, telemedicine, eye care, discount dental care.
  4. Prevent companies from manipulating the market, as in allowing more drivers to come into the system to drive down the amount they pay individual workers.
  5. Push to form a worldwide union, and gain the ability to engage in collective bargaining with the gig economy companies.

What progress have they made?

Despite the companies’ efforts to lobby politicians and defend themselves vigorously when faced with class action suits, gig workers’ advocacy groups have racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. Right now, they operate on a city by city basis; but if they continue to meet, as they did in this virtual rally, their scope may eventually encompass the country, and the world!

Here’s are some of the achievements they’ve got under their belts already:

In Philadelphia:

  • Joined class action suit against Uber to stop worker exploitation
  • Protested against a lack of labor and transportation law enforcement
  • Won back $4.3 million in reduced wages and tips for drivers
  • Forced companies to provide wheelchair accessible vehicles
  • Reduced licensing and inspection fees for drivers
  • Brought back hundreds of drivers Uber had wrongly deactivated
  • Won free commercial insurance for luxury drivers during COVID-19

In New York:

  • Pushed for – and got – Uber to add an in-app tipping option
  • Stopped exploitation via rate cuts
  • Secured an hourly gross minimum wage of $27.86
  • Created and provided free safety classes, chauffeur classes, free telemedicine, eye exams, and eyeglasses, and got discounts on dental coverage.
  • Formed a wellness team of certified counselors and made their services available to drivers and their families.
  • Distributed masks and gloves to drivers during the COVID-19 crisis

In Chicago:

  • Presented the case for securing unemployment and rent forgiveness
  • Pushed companies to pass on the increased surge prices to drivers
  • Presented a list of demands that will be sent to the mayor and state legislature (see above)
  • Pushed for the right to collective bargaining

In Boston:

  • Built a strong group of drivers to protest pay cuts
  • Formed an alliance with state government to create and pass re-classification laws
  • Worked to build a strong, uniform network of drivers across the country

In Denver:

  • Provided unemployment benefit information
  • Protested against Uber pay cuts
  • Encouraged drivers to talk to one another and form a cohesive group

In the San Francisco Bay Area and the State of California

  • Worked to get Assembly Bill 5 passed; forcing companies to classify workers as employees
  • Delivered petitions to Uber and Lyft protesting pay cuts and classification as independent contractors
  • Shut down traffic with a caravan of cars  in front of Uber’s corporate headquarters on the day of its IPO to draw attention to the company’s unfair practices
  • Helped drivers with unemployment insurance applications
  • Built coalitions and empowered essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis

What’s next?

The COVID-19 crisis has mobilized the effort to unite drivers and push to form a true union, capable of being recognized in the collective bargaining process. This has happened because of the acute nature of the issues that arose. 

The risks drivers take as they transport healthcare workers, other essential employees, and the things that are needed to keep families fed during this crisis are formidible. Who makes sure the companies are taking precautions and compensating drivers according to what they deserve for taking these risks?

The issue of unemployment, while solved temporarily by the CARES act, stands out more than it ever did. What will happen when the next disaster strikes, and drivers lose their source of income?

Self-driving vehicles, although not ready to roll quite yet, will become an issue in the future. Many advocates believe drivers will need to stand up against being usurped by these high-risk products of the wig worker companies’ most audacious technology. The threat is not imminent, but it is on the horizon.

As the companies scramble to make a profit, both during the crisis and after it ends, how can drivers be sure their income will be protected from wage cuts and excessive driver-to-driver competition? The massive number of unemployed members of our society will make it that much easier for the companies to find people desperate enough to take even the lowest rates they can offer.

It’s clear that, as the gig economy grows, the people who work within it need to have the protection unionization might bring. The trick will be to ensure that the formation of such a structure is done in a way that doesn’t permit the companies to freeze out unionized workers. That’s why it’s so important to draw on the experience of organizers who’ve already secured legislation, and all of the groups to join forces so that a wider, more powerful, and effective advocacy group can be formed.

COVID-19 keeps us from meeting in large groups for the moment, but this devastating situation has given the driver community a hidden benefit. This virtual rally – a  gathering of several solid driver advocacy groups, might not have happened if the pandemic didn’t force the groups  to meet online rather than outdoors or blocking traffic in their respective cities. 

Now, with all these groups joining forces, the movement to get fair treatment and protection from drivers could very well be…unstoppable!. 

Get even more information by searching on the hashtag: #TheGigIsUp.

What do you think?

Now that we’ve given you the facts, what do you think? Should drivers be getting paid more? Is employment status a good idea, and how would you feel about being a member of a potential union for gig economy workers? Let us know in the comments below!

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