This ride-share driver demands a voice — and a living wage

Last year, Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, took home $45 million. It’s hard enough to wrap your head around the annual earnings of rideshare CEOs …

Last year, Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, took home $45 million. It’s hard enough to wrap your head around the annual earnings of rideshare CEOs, but what they take home goes beyond their annual earnings. For example, Logan Green and John Zimmer, Lyft’s co-founders, hold some $700 million and $510 million in Lyft stock, respectively.

I made under $14,000 driving part time for Lyft last year. I had other jobs, like many drivers, but my hourly wages from driving fell below $15.

It’s hard surviving in the Bay Area on a salary like mine. I am a single parent. Two years ago I needed surgery, but I drove in extreme pain and fear not knowing how my family would survive without an income and without the benefits that are standard for other workers — paid sick leave and short-term disability. When the pain became stronger than my fear of no income, I had surgery. I borrowed money for groceries, transportation and rent — money I still have not paid back. At the same time, Khosrowshahi bought a $16.5 million mansion in San Francisco.

I’m damn tired of this inequality, and my fellow drivers are, too.

Without millions of drivers nationwide, neither company would make a dime. Yet, which one of us makes millions a year?

We are every bit as important to the success of these companies as their well-compensated executives. But we are seen as expendable. Uber ignores our needs, slashes our wages, withholds benefits and silences our voices.

In a Chronicle opinion piece jointly written by the heads of Uber and Lyft last week, Khosrowshahi, Green and Zimmer say they’re now ready to “come to the table” and do their part for drivers.

The changes outlined by executives are parroted directly from demands that organized drivers across the country have been pushing for years. These demands garnered international attention last month when thousands of drivers worldwide took action against both companies, ensuring millions of people knew about the plight and demands of drivers.

But we know that the executives’ proposals are a sham: a meaningless “commitment to driver pay,” a corporate-controlled driver association, and an offer to pay just one-third of the usual percentage of salary most companies give toward things like retirement, health care or workers comp.

Make no mistake, Uber and Lyft are scared of organized drivers, so they’re trying an old corporate playbook: pretend to listen, but offer a pittance.

If the op-ed from Uber and Lyft wasn’t proof enough, on Friday evening both companies sent mass emails and in-app messages to drivers full of misleading information in an attempt to pressure them into opposing legislation that would expand rights and protections for drivers in California. The proposed law, Assembly Bill 5, would stop Uber and Lyft from excluding rideshare drivers from basic worker protections like a living wage and crucial benefits like health insurance, disability, overtime and workers comp.

They’re hoping scare tactics and vague promises will trick drivers into signing a misleading petition so they don’t have to treat drivers fairly. But drivers know better. They are playing on the fears of drivers, threatening that flexibility will be taken away and they will no longer be able to work on multiple apps. The idea that flexibility must be traded for basic worker rights and protections is a false choice. Drivers deserve and can have both.

Time and again we’ve seen Uber and Lyft put their profits ahead of the interests of drivers. This latest attempt is no different. They’re trying to trick the Legislature into thinking they are willing to change, and they want to manipulate drivers into being their (low-paid) lobbyists.

Drivers don’t want to hear vague promises or to be pawns for Uber and Lyft. Drivers are standing up to demand the rights we are owed as workers: a living wage, benefits and the right to organize.

At this point we cannot trust either company’s outreaches because they have been made in bad faith. Where were the executives years ago when drivers were first raising these complaints? Where were they just months ago when drivers sought to be invited to the table to substantively address our concerns?

They were nowhere. Now that both companies are facing publicity nightmares, executives seek to placate us with temporary olive branches.

The attempts by Uber and Lyft executives to change course are heartening in one regard: They mean our organizing is powerful and effective. Our demands may be broad, but they are non-negotiable. We won’t walk away with anything less than a living wage (after expenses), transparency and benefits.

When we say we want a voice at work, this is not an empty slogan: We want decision-making power over the policies that affect us every working day. We won’t settle for less.

Lauren Swiger is a Lyft driver who has been organizing with other drivers in the Bay Area for better working conditions, and was part of the nationwide Uber/Lyft strike in May.

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