Image: We Drive Progress
On Thursday, a coalition of app-based drivers and driver advocacy groups in California led a statewide day of action, including a caravan protest that brought a giant inflatable baby to Uber’s San Francisco headquarters.
The protest—organized by We Drive Progress, Gig Workers Rising, and Rideshare Drivers United—occurred in the hours after Lyft announced it would suspend operations Thursday night before backtracking when an appellate court granted a delay to Uber and Lyft in enforcing a judge’s order that they must classify drivers as employees, so the companies can appeal it.
“I’m doing this for other drivers who have families to feed, who are trapped in the [Lyft] car rental programs, who are facing horrible conditions,” said Linda Salmore, a driver who organizes with Rideshare Drivers United. “We have to stay unified, we have to show them we’re not going to back down. The alternative is having them write their own labor laws, to treat drivers as disposable and replaceable. To abuse them, to burn them out quickly, to leave them on their own to figure out how to survive.”
Drivers are demanding that Uber and Lyft abandon their efforts to circumvent California law and reclassify them as employees, not independent contractors.
Since a 2018 California Supreme Court decision made it harder to justify classifying drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, gig economy companies have fought to protect their business models that rely on misclassification and ignored the law. When Assembly Bill 5 took effect on January 1 this year, a series of legal battles kicked off that led to an August 10 ruling by a San Francisco judge that Uber and Lyft had 10 days to reclassify their drivers as employees.
The ruling kicked off a PR blitz and threats to leave from the leadership of Lyft and Uber that ultimately resulted in a favorable ruling for the companies.
The same day as the ruling, Uber’s CEO published a New York Times op-ed declaring “drivers deserve better,” and then appeared on MSNBC and The RideShare Guy’s podcast to defend his threat to leave. Lyft also joined in the threat, and on Thursday appeared to make good on it by announcing that it would be shutting down in California just before midnight on Thursday.
Hours later, however, both companies were granted an emergency stay that would allow them to continue treating drivers as independent contractors while an appeal moves forward.
“This doesn’t change anything. I’m disappointed about the stay because they’ve had plenty of time to obey the law,” said Christopher Arellano, a Bay-Area based driver who helped organize the protest. “We are still going to mobilize drivers up and down the state to vote against Proposition 22.”
On Tuesday, app-based drivers also held a press conference decrying other efforts by a coalition of gig companies led by Uber to undermine reclassification—namely spending $110 million on Yes on Proposition 22, a campaign to raise popular support for a ballot measure to carve out an exemption to AB5.
Across the state, drivers also distributed PPE, which both companies promised to provide to drivers at the start of the pandemic but quickly ran into problems. Lyft has been selling PPE to drivers, while Uber, after long periods of delay, has distributed PPE unevenly across the country. Both Uber and Lyft also faced criticism for promises of sick paid leave that quickly turned into spectacles.
“I’m cautiously optimistic despite everything. Four years ago, I could drive 40 hours and make the money I needed. Today, it’s at least 60 hours,” Tonje Ettesvoll, another driver with RDU, told Motherboard. “They’ve fought us at every step of the way when they could’ve spent that $110 million on actually helping us. The greed makes me sad because it’s going to make victims out of all the drivers when we just want rights and a decent living.”