Uber and Lyft drivers roll up to Seattle City Hall to demand better wages and worker protections

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Uber drivers prepare to join a protest caravan in Seattle. (Facebook Photo / App-Based Drivers Association)

A caravan of Uber and Lyft drivers arrived at the steps of Seattle City Hall on Thursday afternoon to demand better wages and treatment from the ride-hailing companies.

The rolling demonstration comes three weeks after drivers around the world held protests timed with Uber’s initial public offering. In both cases, the drivers involved said they are frustrated by the companies’ take rates and opaque methods of calculating rates. The drivers are also asking for a fair process to appeal deactivations on the apps.

It also comes on the same day Uber posted its first quarterly earnings report as a public company, revealing revenue of $3.1 billion and losses of $1 billion for the first quarter of 2019.

But not all drivers are fed up with Uber and Lyft. Some claim that the protesters are just a vocal minority advocating on behalf of the incumbent taxi industry and stymieing innovation. This conflict is playing out in cities everywhere as drivers and lawmakers struggle to define this new form of work enabled by apps. But the struggle is especially acute in Seattle, the first city to pass a law that would allow Uber drivers to unionize if it ever makes it out of lawsuits delaying its implementation.

In some ways, drivers are on the frontlines of a proxy war between Uber and Teamsters 117, a union in Washington state representing warehouse workers, truck drivers, taxi drivers, and others. The Teamsters were involved in the crafting of Seattle’s collective bargaining ordinance. Teamsters affiliate the App-Based Drivers Association organized the caravan protest Thursday.

In Uber’s court is Drive Forward, a group of drivers organized by the company. Drive Forward Director Matthew Wald said the protesters are “the same small group of disgruntled former taxi drivers who have fought against rideshare in Seattle for years,” in a statement.

“The fact is that drivers do make a living wage and enjoy the freedom and flexibility to make money on their own terms as independent business owners,” Wald said. “The claims made by the App-Based Drivers Association are misleading and don’t represent the views of the vast majority of rideshare drivers.”

The driver caravan started in Seattle’s Central District and ended at City Hall, where they delivered a set of demands to city officials and a report that found Uber and Lyft have a median take rate of 31 percent in Seattle, based on their analysis of 560 trips. That’s up from Uber and Lyft’s take rate in previous years. Drive Forward disputes the findings of the report.

The drivers were greeted by Seattle City Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda, Kshama Sawant, Lisa Herbold, and Mike O’Brien outside City Hall.

Shortly after the demonstration, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant issued a statement in support of the effort.

“Uber and Lyft executives love to boast about their innovation, but there’s nothing new or innovative about exploiting workers,” she said. “They’re basically running sweatshops on wheels, gussied-up with fancy slogans and 21st Century smartphone apps. It’s absolutely shameful.”

Uber went public May 10 and saw shares dip 7.6 percent on its first day of trading.

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