Uber, Lyft drivers strike on Valentine’s Day, joined by thousands across the country

Uber, Lyft Drivers Strike On Valentine’s Day, Joined By Thousands Across The Country

A rideshare driver stands on top of a car with a megaphone, rallying other protestors in front of him at a staging area near O'Hare Airport.

Rideshare drivers rally at a staging area near O’Hare Airport during a work strike on Wednesday. The demonstration staged by Uber, Lyft and DoorDash drivers was one of ten staged simultaneously outside of airports in 10 cities across the country calling for better pay and safer working conditions.

Scott Olson/Getty

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash drivers were gathered at O’Hare Airport’s rideshare waiting lot Wednesday morning to kick off a strike that was held across multiple cities across the country, including in Philadelphia, Miami and Austin, Texas.

More than 50 drivers were on strike until 1 p.m., though some said they would not accept rides for the entire day.

Drivers complained of safety concerns, decreases in pay and having their accounts unfairly terminated or suspended, also known as deactivated, by rideshare apps.

The strike was organized by the Independent Drivers Guild Illinois (IDG), a community of drivers fighting for better working conditions, and Justice For App Workers, a national coalition working to improve the conditions of app workers with the goal of creating a union.

“We’re out here to let them know if no driver drives, there’s no Uber, there’s no Lyft,” said Steven Everett, co-founder of Independent Drivers Guild Illinois (IDG).

IDG wants drivers to earn 70% of what riders pay, to let drivers advocate for themselves when facing deactivation and require passengers to upload IDs for safety concerns.

In a statement Wednesday, Lyft said it has a new safety feature that can connect drivers with a security agent in real time, and it is making deactivation appeals easier with an in-app button and offering access to a team dedicated to deactivation appeals. Lyft is also providing a new minimum earnings guaranteeing that drivers earn 70% of the rider fares after fees. The company said they’re launching a new earnings summary in the Lyft app so drivers can see where every cent goes.

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kim Ziyavo, an organizer with IDG, said the guild is currently helping several hundred drivers who have been deactivated by Uber or Lyft.

Some drivers have had their accounts deactivated after being accused of crimes by passengers, like driving under the influence, but no police reports were filed, Ziyavo said.

“It’s totally unfounded. I mean I see some of the most ridiculous claims made by passengers,” she said.

Ziyavo said drivers have attempted to appeal deactivations, but often get an automated message saying their request is being denied. She said a fairer appeals process with a human interface is needed for drivers, many of whom make a living through rideshare.

Uber and Lyft have deactivated nearly 10,000 drivers since 2020, with almost 4,000 driver accounts permanently deactivated in 2022, according to city data analyzed in a report by the Chicago Gig Alliance and the People’s Lobby.

The Chicago Gig Alliance, an organization representing rideshare drivers, have been lobbying for the passage of the Chicago Rideshare Living Wage and Safety Ordinance, which would raise drivers’ wages, create a transparent system to handle driver deactivation and improve driver safety.

The ordinance currently has 30 co-sponsors, according to Nolberto Casas of the Chicago Gig Alliance. Organizers are expecting the ordinance to be voted on by the City Council in April, Casas said.

Safety concerns, better pay

Lyft driver Steve DesRoches said he’s gotten requests for rides where the passenger’s name is listed as “Murder” or “Cut you.” DesRoches says he drives mostly during the day to stay safe.

Since he’s been driving, DesRoches said he’s seen his pay decrease every year. When he started in 2015, he made $1,100 to $1,200 a week when driving 40 hours. Now, when he works the same number of hours, he makes $500 to $600 a week.

Carmelita Peralta, 63, who has been a rideshare driver for nearly nine years, said her pay has also declined. She works every day and lives paycheck to paycheck.

In her time driving for Uber, Peralta said she’s bought and “gone through” three cars.

Unlike salaried workers, gig workers like Uber drivers don’t receive benefits such as health insurance or reimbursement for expenses. That means Peralta is paying for her car’s maintenance costs out of pocket. Peralta said she’s also spent thousands of dollars on gas last year.

“Car washes, oil change, which I had to do every two months, tires every year, windshield wipers, it’s just everything,” she said.

A protester stands next to a coffin that reads, "How many more must die?"

A protester stands next to a coffin that reads, “How many more must die?”

Phyllis Cha/Sun-Times

Safety is a real concern for rideshare drivers. In late January, after three armed robberies occurred on the same Near West Side block, the Chicago Police Department warned delivery drivers to be cautious. The same month, a rideshare driver was critically wounded in an attempted carjacking in Austin, police said.

In December, Lyft driver Adriana Arocha-Duque was fatally shot in Austin the day after Christmas. Another driver was killed, also in Austin, in a shooting weeks earlier. Mohammed Al Hejoj was driving his black 2017 Cadillac Escalade ESV with four passengers in the 1700 block of North Lotus Avenue at about 5:40 p.m. on Dec. 3 when someone opened fire.

Peralta said she drives only between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. because of safety concerns, though she wants to be able to drive during peak hours to make more money.

She said her and other drivers have even started avoiding certain neighborhoods.

“And that’s wrong,” she said. “But I’m afraid for my life.”

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