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A line of protesters at a roadside holds signs reading “Higher wages for Lyft and Uber drivers now!” and “App workers deserve better.”

On Wednesday, Lyft, Uber, and DoorDash drivers mounted one of their largest strikes ever as part of a push for fair pay and better protections. 

The strikes, which took place in as many as 44 cities across the country, lasted at least two hours and featured drivers refusing to give rides while gathering at airports in cities including Chicago, Newark, and Philadelphia. Drivers are protesting the wages they’re being paid, a lack of transparency around how pay is calculated, and concerns about abrupt account deactivations by the apps. 

The protests underscore how few protections gig workers — who have been classified as independent contractors under state and federal laws — have, compared to employees. While companies are required to abide by minimum wage laws and provide health care benefits for employees, gig workers lack this same safety net and must rely on corporations voluntarily improving their working conditions. 

“Pay has gotten significantly lower in recent years,” Nupur Chowdhury, an Uber driver who planned a rally at Reagan Airport outside Washington, DC, told the Washington Post. “That’s why people are super angry right now.”

The strikes were largely organized by Rideshare Drivers United and Justice for App Workers, two labor organizations that focus on advocacy for app-based independent contractors. The groups chose Valentine’s Day for the protest because of the level of business the apps tended to see on the holiday and of the symbolism it has for drivers’ inability to spend time with people they care about. 

“Too many Uber and Lyft drivers are unable to spend time with their own children and loved ones, as they work extreme hours in mobile-sweatshop conditions with virtually zero protections on the job,” Justice for App Workers told Vox in a statement. 

Ride-hail workers are uniquely vulnerable 

In response to the strikes, Lyft and Uber have cited median and average pay figures above minimum wage for drivers, as well as tools they’ve launched to make it easier for workers to report safety concerns and deactivations. 

According to Lyft, its median driver made $23.46 per hour after expenses as of the second half of 2023 while on a trip, while Uber said its average driver made $33 per hour as of the fourth quarter of 2023 while on a trip, before expenses. Lyft also shared that it will soon release earnings summaries for each ride that allow drivers to see where fare money goes. Both companies said they had not witnessed major disruptions to their services during the strikes.  

A 2023 report from the UCLA Labor Center, however, found that companies are pocketing a greater share of customer’s fares in recent years. In a study that analyzed data from 2019, 2020, and 2022 New York City Uber and Lyft rides, researchers found passenger fares for both companies increased at a faster rate than driver pay for those same rides. The study also found the amount companies take from each ride is highly variable and that they’re now taking a larger percentage than they once were.

In a similar vein, a 2024 Business Insider analysis concluded that Lyft’s and Uber’s sense of drivers’ hourly earnings can differ greatly from that of drivers’ because of how they make that calculation. Both companies typically only factor in active time driving passengers when totaling earnings, not time spent waiting on the app for rides, which many drivers also count as working hours. 

It’s not just pay that’s a concern, however; riders are also striking in the hope of putting pressure on companies and lawmakers to improve safety protections and to provide more stability regarding access to the app. 

“Gig workers are more vulnerable than other workers because they are not legally considered ‘employees,’ and therefore they do not have all of the rights and protections that ‘regular’ workers get, including the right to minimum wage and overtime,” Erin Hatton, a University of Buffalo sociologist who studies the gig economy, tells Vox. “This means that their employers have no legal obligation to pay them any wage rate, let alone the minimum wage. They are also not protected against workplace discrimination and unsafe working conditions.”

Practically, this has meant that there’s no pay standard for independent contractors who work for companies like Lyft and Uber beyond those that the app companies voluntarily set. The companies are also under no obligation to help in the case of injury. And there’s limited recourse for workers if their accounts are deactivated

Wednesday’s strikes aren’t the first time workers have mobilized in recent years to call for better treatment and to urge policymakers to address these gaps. Previously, there was a push for a California policy to treat gig economy workers as employees, though app-based companies campaigned heavily for a state ballot measure that rejected this effort. Additionally, a 2024 rule from the Labor Department could require companies like Lyft and Uber to classify their workers as employees, though it’s expected to be challenged in court. 

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