Drivers, delivery workers rally for union, higher pay

NY workers form alliance to advance fight

By Seth Galinsky
February 21, 2022
“We need a union,” speakers said at Feb. 1 rally of Uber and Lyft drivers and food delivery workers in New York. They are fighting for higher wages, job protection and better conditions.
Militant/Seth Galinsky“We need a union,” speakers said at Feb. 1 rally of Uber and Lyft drivers and food delivery workers in New York. They are fighting for higher wages, job protection and better conditions.

NEW YORK — More than 100 Uber, Lyft and other app-based ride and food-delivery workers and their supporters from New York City and Long Island rallied here Feb. 1 demanding higher pay, better working conditions, an end to arbitrary employer deactivations and for access to bathrooms and the right to form a union. 

The rally was called to announce the formation of Justice for App Workers, a coalition of mainly local  groups of drivers and delivery workers. Speakers addressed the rally in English, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, Tibetan and Uzbek, reflecting the heavily immigrant workforce. 

There are 100,000 or more food-delivery workers and app-based drivers here. Drivers and delivery workers are paid a base rate plus mileage and tips. Both Uber and Lyft claim the drivers are “independent contractors” and are barred from union representation. 

“We are fighting for the chance to not just scrape by, but to live,” Dachuan Nie, a food-delivery worker with Chowbus and president of the International Alliance of Delivery Workers, told the rally. “How can we live if we have to work 12, 14, 16 hours a day? How can we take care of our families?” 

“Gas goes up, tolls go up, everything goes up except the drivers’ pay,” said Raúl Rivera from NYC Drivers Unite. Drivers have to provide their own car and delivery workers their own vehicle or bicycle. 

“We are workers. We need a union,” Jahongir Ibadov, a leader of UzBER, a group of drivers from Uzbekistan and Russia, said to cheers. 

“Uber says they take 30% of each fare. But I can show you, they take much more,” Ibadov told the Militant.

“We move this city and we deserve respect,” said Nigeria-born Naomi Ogutu, a leader of NYC Rideshare Club, who chaired the rally. She demanded the city government ensure there are public bathrooms that drivers can access, not a small question in New York. 

“Construction workers have a union. Hospital workers have a union. Hotel workers have a union,” Sonam Ghising Lama, from the Independent Drivers Guild, told the crowd. “We need a union and union protection.” 

Speakers reported how the companies arbitrarily “deactivate” workers, blocking them from using the apps to pick up passengers or food to deliver, and providing no way for drivers to appeal. 

Imran Sayed, a 39-year-old driver originally from Mumbai, India, told the Militant  he is fighting deactivation by both Uber and Lyft. 

Uber deactivated Sayed three years ago a few hours after a passenger complained when Sayed wouldn’t drop him off in a zone reserved for yellow taxis. Sayed explained that he risked a fine from police. “Of 50 emails I sent to Uber protesting my deactivation, they answered maybe one,” he said. 

“I pay $1,600 a month on my car in loan payments and insurance, but I can’t get work because I’m deactivated.” 

A representative for Justice for App Workers told the press that the coalition’s next steps to press their demands will be announced soon. The Independent Drivers Guild, affiliated with the International Association of Machinists, is the only national organization that is part of the coalition. It is lobbying state lawmakers for “Right to Bargain” reforms that include union recognition for drivers and delivery workers in order to negotiate for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

Neither Uber nor Lyft responded to requests for an interview from the Militant.