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Uber and Lyft drivers strike over pay, gig work conditions

- By Johana Bhuiyan

Uber and Lyft drivers joining a strike across California on Wednesday are aiming their message at Washington, in the first such strike by ride-hailing drivers intended to rally support for national legislativ­e changes to improve their working conditions.

The 24-hour strike, which began at midnight Wednesday, aims to push Congress to pass the Protect the Right to Organize Act — proposed federal legislatio­n that would allow contractor­s to unionize if they chose, participat­ing drivers said.

It comes at a time of growing demand for ride-hailing services in Los Angeles and other big cities — as people venture back out to restaurant­s and bars — and not enough drivers, because many sat out work during the pandemic and never returned because they said the pay was no longer good enough.

“I’m striking simply because drivers have never had the ability to negotiate with the company,” L.A. driver Ben Valdez said. “They’ve never asked us how much we want to get paid. They just basically indiscrimi­nately change rates and programs however they please.”

The strike and accompanyi­ng rallies planned for Wednesday in L.A., San Francisco, and San Diego were organized by the driver group Rideshare Drivers United, which said this was the first such strike since California­ns voted overwhelmi­ngly to pass Propositio­n 22.

The bill enshrined into law many gig workers’ contract status, allowing companies such as Uber and Lyft, which bankrolled the measure, to continue to rely on relatively cheap labor without having to offer the slate of benefits and protection­s employees usually get.

Many drivers for ridehailin­g services say their earnings, and their ability to control their working conditions, have deteriorat­ed since Propositio­n 22 passed less than a year ago, and with Wednesday’s strike they are saying: No more.

By directing their protest at U.S. lawmakers, they are bypassing their usual route of pressure on Uber and Lyft, who they have long tried to lobby to increase fares or be more transparen­t about what riders pay and what share of that drivers get.

Some drivers say, in the months since Propositio­n 22 passed in November, they’ve come to realize how little control they have over how they do their work and the compensati­on they receive. Changes implemente­d by Uber and Lyft in the last year or so have made work hours and the size of their paychecks less reliable.

That includes lower permile pay for airport rides, and reversing some work features that made the job more flexible and transparen­t.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment. Lyft referred The Times to Protect App Based Drivers and Services, the coalition that backed Propositio­n 22 and includes Lyft, Uber and community

groups. A coalition representa­tive said Uber and Lyft drivers had benefited from the passage of the bill in some ways, including the ability to qualify for help with healthcare including subsidies.

As of April 2021, Uber drivers in L.A. make $26.85 an hour while those in San Francisco make $25.28 an hour, the representa­tive said.

Full-time Lyft drivers also can qualify for up to $4,800 in healthcare subsidies.

The ride-hailing driver group said it wasn’t seeking or expecting immediate changes or concession­s from the companies. Instead, striking drivers want the ability to negotiate a contract with Uber and Lyft through a union so they can help set the terms of their work, including fair and transparen­t payment.

The PRO Act, which passed the House in March, would expand some labor protection­s — including penalizing employers for retaliatin­g against workers who try to unionize — and it could allow contractor­s to unionize if they chose to do so.

Although the legislatio­n has garnered support from Democratic senators, three Senate Democrats have yet to agree to co-sponsor the bill: Sens. Mark Warner, D-VA.; Mark Kelly, D-ariz.; and Kyrsten Sinema, D-ariz.

“Without the PRO Act, drivers have no control over what companies choose to do,” said Brian Dolber, a Rideshare Drivers United organizer and Associate Professor of Communicat­ion at California State University, San Marcos. “They are completely at their whim.”

 ?? Irfan Khan/los Angeles Times/tns, File ?? Denise Lyra, left, and her daughter Gabriela, arriving from Brazil, check her phone to figure out from where to get their ride at the pickup lot “LAXIT” at Los Angeles Internatio­nal Airport, in 2019. Uber and Lyft rides have been increasing­ly hard to get at the airport, and the squeeze may worsen as rideshare drivers strike.
Irfan Khan/los Angeles Times/tns, File Denise Lyra, left, and her daughter Gabriela, arriving from Brazil, check her phone to figure out from where to get their ride at the pickup lot “LAXIT” at Los Angeles Internatio­nal Airport, in 2019. Uber and Lyft rides have been increasing­ly hard to get at the airport, and the squeeze may worsen as rideshare drivers strike.

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