Uber Drivers Protest ‘Corporate Greed’ as Billionaires Cash In

Many drivers feel like they’re investors as well, having sunk countless resources into working for the company

Photography: Sarah Emerson

OnOn a misty Wednesday afternoon in San Francisco’s Embarcadero neighborhood, dozens of ride-share drivers from around the Bay Area convened in front of Google Ventures, the investment arm of Alphabet, to protest the mistreatment of gig economy workers by Uber and its backers.

The protest was helmed by Gig Workers Rising, a campaign of 8,000 members that supports “app and platform workers” like Uber and Lyft drivers. Organizers timed it to the expiration of Uber’s IPO lockup, the point when most employees and investors such as Google — which bet $258 million on the company in 2013 — can cash in their shares for the first time since the company’s public offering. While Uber shares dropped on Wednesday, the lockup expiration will likely see the minting of new multimillionaires.

“It’s up to investors to make sure their investment isn’t going toward a predatory business model that hurts workers,” Jeff Perry, a Sacramento driver who was joined by his daughter at the demonstration, told OneZero. “The business reflects their values.”

Protesters chanted choruses of “Hey hey, ho ho, billionaires have got to go,” and “Google, Google, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” as drivers in passing cars and delivery trucks honked in solidarity. Google representatives were not visibly present.

In addition to confronting Google with its “corporate greed,” said driver Erica Mighetto, participants were there to support California’s AB5 law, which requires Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as employees — a meaningful step toward ensuring that gig workers are treated fairly and receive a living wage. San Francisco supervisor Gordon Mar was also in attendance and said that as new wealth floods the city, it “does not belong solely to Uber employees and investors.”

Uber and Lyft are predictably fighting the law by introducing their own ballot initiative that would undermine AB5’s labor protections for drivers. The 2020 ballot referendum is called the Protect App-Based Drivers and Services campaign, and has received $90 million in backing from these companies and others like Doordash. The campaign claims that it will offer benefits such as a health stipend and wage increase, but Uber and Lyft drivers say these amount to virtually nothing. The wage allotment would guarantee them $5.64 per hour, according to an analysis by Ken Jacobs, chair of the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center who spoke at Wednesday’s protest. “The ballot initiative was designed to undo the protections in AB5,” said Jacobs.

Many drivers feel like they’re investors as well, having sunk countless resources into work that has generated billions of dollars in profit for Uber.

“We’re here to make history for drivers and to get some rights,” San Francisco-based driver Al Aloudi, who has been involved with the movement since 2014, told OneZero. “The U.S. has a good history of labor rights, but drivers [like us] don’t have them.”

Two other demonstrations took place outside of the houses belonging to Uber investor Bill Gurley and Uber chairman and co-founder Garrett Camp. A protester was detained by police at the Atherton residence of Gurley, according to Gig Workers Rising. The Los Angeles event was organized by Gig Workers Rising’s coalition partner, the Mobile Workers Alliance, and together the groups support a network of 20,000 drivers.

“We’ve seen this before in history, where entities and businesses operated without morals or ethics, and they’re on the wrong side of history every time,” said Perry. “I think we’ll see that here with Uber.”

This story has been updated to reflect that the Los Angeles protest was organized by the Mobile Workers Alliance.

Have a tip about Uber or Lyft? You can contact Sarah Emerson securely on Signal at +1 510 473 8820, on Wire at sanaomie, or email sarahnemerson@protonmail.com or semerson@medium.com.

Staff writer at OneZero covering social platforms, internet communities, and the spread of misinformation online. Previously: VICE

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