App-based drivers demand ‘living wage’ as gas prices soar

By Seth Galinsky
April 18, 2022

NEW YORK — More than 70 drivers for app-based ride-share and food delivery companies caravanned from Brooklyn to Uber headquarters in Manhattan March 29. They are demanding relief from sky-high gas prices that threaten their livelihood, and arbitrary “deactivations” by the app bosses — the equivalent of being suspended or fired.

“We need a union now,” “Unfair deactivation,” “Gas prices are killing us!” were among the handwritten signs taped to their cars. Drivers passing by honked in support.

The caravan was initiated by Justice for App Workers, a coalition of nine organizations of drivers and food delivery workers. Eight of the groups are based in New York City and Long Island, and the ninth, the Machinists union-backed Independent Drivers Guild, organizes in five states.

Among the coalition’s demands are a living wage, health care benefits and bathroom access for drivers. There are over 60,000 app drivers and some 6,700 yellow cab drivers currently working in this city.

The ride-share companies claim drivers are independent operators, not workers. They have to buy or rent their cars and pay for the gas and government-required licenses and permits. If they own the cars, they also pay for all upkeep and repairs. All the app bosses do is connect the drivers with customers, for which they take out a commission on every fare. Unlike yellow cab drivers, app-based drivers are not allowed to pick up passengers who hail them without going through the app.

“We don’t work in a factory, we work for ourselves, but we still have the same right to organize,” Muneeb Rehman, 38, told the Militant. “We want better conditions.”

Rehman was skeptical about the recent announcement that some yellow cab drivers will now be able to plug into the Uber app, a move the company will use to increase competition among workers and drive down rates. All Uber wants to do “is make money on the back of the drivers,” he said.

New York Mayor Eric Adams instructed the Taxi and Limousine Commission to raise the minimum rate for passenger fares by 5.3% in March. But drivers say that’s nowhere near enough. Gas prices have increased at least 70% over the last two years.

“We can’t pay our bills. We can’t pay our maintenance fees for the car because of the price of the gas,” Jahongir Ibadov, a leader of UzBER, drivers originally from Uzbekistan and Russia, told the press. “We’re taking home less money. We cannot afford to support our families.”

The app companies claim “that they are taking a 20% to 30% commission on each fare,” driver Tony Monanta told the Militant, “but then you get a $150 fare and they actually take out $75. It’s not fair.”

Justice for App Workers is calling for a cap of 10% on the commissions the ride-share companies take. It also calls for a “surcharge” that would go to the drivers to partially compensate for the gas hikes.

“This job takes a lot out of you,” said Israel Acevedo. “When I first started driving years ago I would work 12 hours a day. Now after just eight hours my back, my legs hurt.

“You should be able to work eight hours a day, 40 hours a week and have a sustainable life,” he said.

“False/random deactivations from Uber and Lyft is the other big issue,” driver Zohaib Baig said in a statement he planned to read outside Uber headquarters. “Even if the driver has a dashcam” of exactly what happened in a dispute with a passenger, the app bosses refuse to look at it. No appeal is allowed.

“You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around,” he said.

Neither Uber nor Lyft replied to requests for comment from the Militant.