‘Without Us, Uber and Lyft Would Not Exist:’ Drivers React to Shut Down Threats

On Tuesday, app-based drivers in Los Angeles and the Bay Area held a press conference detailing how Uber’s and Lyft’s threats to stop operating in California on Thursday would affect them.

“I’m struggling to really put food on the table for myself because they deny us a minimum wage,” said Jerome Gage, an app-based driver based in Southern California. “It’s an unimaginable scenario that they are responsible for—Uber and Lyft. They created this nightmarish business model that puts drivers on the outer edges of society, scrambling just to make ends meet—they created that. And now they’re threatening to take away the little drivers still have by threatening to leave the state.”

The conference was organized by No on Proposition 22, a campaign organized by app-based drivers and driver advocacy groups opposed to a ballot measure written by a coalition of app-based companies that would exempt them from reclassifying their drivers and providing the benefits and protections associated with employee status.

“Californians are sick of billion dollar corporations ignoring the law and exploiting drivers just to boost their own profits—that’s why I’m going to vote No on Proposition 22,” said Mikaela Edwards, a Lyft driver based in the Bay Area. “From day one, Uber, Lyft, and other app-based companies have broken the law by refusing to pay healthcare, pay us a minimum wage, provide us with sick leave, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation. Our work is essential—without us, Uber and Lyft would not exist.”

On August 10th, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled that Uber and Lyft must immediately reclassify their drivers as employees and gave the companies ten days to appeal the decision before it took effect. Over the next week, Uber went on a PR campaign in hopes of mobilizing the public to lend strength to its case.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote a New York Times op-ed last week, arguing that “drivers deserve better” than reclassification as employees, then threatened to temporarily suspend operations in California if the company’s appeal failed less than 24 hours later. Schulman refused to grant Uber and Lyft motions to extend the 10 day stay, leading to Uber and Lyft putting messages in their app warning of an imminent shutdown and blaming politicians.

Threatening to leave uncooperative markets is a familiar play for ride-hailing companies when faced with the possibility of regulation, which drivers say will unnecessarily leave them in the lurch.

“By threatening to kill our jobs and leave California, Uber and Lyft have shown the world that they don’t care about the drivers or their livelihoods,” said Cherri Murphy, a Bay Area Lyft driver, during the press conference. “They care about one thing and one thing only: their bottom line.”

Drivers also shared stories expressing how they felt like Uber and Lyft were holding them “held hostage by billionaires” to achieve a political exemption. Because of their misclassification, drivers are not eligible for unemployment benefits despite being employees under California law as far back as 2018 due to a California Supreme Court decision—a ruling which AB5, passed January 1, simply codified.

“I was forced to make a decision: do something that could kill me or pay my bills,” Murphy said. “And now, as Uber and Lyft threaten to kill jobs and leave California, I can feel the companies try to force me into making another decision: give them what they want on the November ballot—a special exemption to keep denying me and my fellow drivers the benefits we have earned—or give up my livelihood and possibly my life.”

As a last ditch effort, Uber is doubling down on its $110 million campaign featuring a coalition of app-based companies (including Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart) that have put forward a ballot initiative called Proposition 22. The ballot measure would carve out an exemption in AB5 for gig companies and purportedly offers a minimum wage of $15.60 an hour, but an analysis by the UC Berkeley Labor Center found that the actual wage offered is closer to $5.64 an hour.

“Drivers are people too,” Gage added. “Not just numbers like Uber and Lyft makes us out to be.”

In a statement to Motherboard, an Uber spokesperson said “If our due process rights are exhausted we will have no choice but to comply with the preliminary injunction, which is regrettably why we would have to shut down ridesharing in California, while we work to implement a dramatically different service than what hundreds of thousands of drivers have grown accustomed to or tell us that they want.”

A Lyft spokesperson pointed Motherboard to comments made by Lyft President John Zimmer on an earnings call last week, where he said “Our plans and forecasts are currently based on the assumption that efforts to challenge the injunction will yield favorable results—still, as you know we cannot provide assurances on the timing and ultimate outcome.”

If Uber and Lyft fail to overturn the decision in First District Court of Appeal in California, drivers are expected to be reclassified on Thursday, August 20th.

Subscribe to The Mail, our newsletter about the USPS, voting security, and democracy.