A day of strikes planned by Uber drivers in cities around the world drew a modest turnout Wednesday, as protesters denounced the ride-hailing giant’s employment and pay practices before its blockbuster initial public offering this week.
In Britain, some drivers, joined by members of other unions, protested at Uber offices around the country. About two dozen protesters outside the British headquarters in East London banged drums; released a smoke flare; displayed banners that read, “Uber sell off: Billions to bosses, poverty pay for drivers”; and chanted, “Uber, Uber, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”
In San Francisco, hundreds of protesters blocked the street in front of Uber’s headquarters as a brass band played. They carried signs that said Uber and Lyft, its primary rival in the United States, which went public in March, were “launching IPOs on the backs of their drivers.”
And outside Uber’s New York City headquarters in Queens, about 50 drivers and their supporters protested their wages and some of the employment practices of ride-hailing companies, chanting: “Driver power! Union power!” They said they felt they were being treated unfairly by companies they had helped turn into transportation Goliaths.
“We invest in this company,” said Georges Colois, an Uber driver for more than two years in New York, pointing to the costs of renting or buying a car and paying for its upkeep and fuel, all to the benefit of the ride-hailing companies.
“I believe we deserve some respect and to be paid fairly,” he said. The strikes were one of the biggest coordinated efforts by drivers to demonstrate their grievances against Uber and Lyft, organizers and drivers said. But the strikes were largely muted. At La Guardia Airport in New York on Wednesday morning, cars driving for Uber and Lyft picked up passengers, and one airport worker said the flow of for-hire cars was typical for the time of day.
At the heart of the drivers’ frustration is their status as independent contractors, not full-time workers. Ride-hailing companies argue that drivers prefer the flexible schedule of a freelancer. But drivers lack full-time benefits like health care and have said they have little control over their wages because the companies set the fares and take a cut of the fees they earn from rides.