Uber and Lyft drivers held a rally today at Portland City Hall demanding higher wages and accountability from the Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) they work for. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) organized the rally as part of its Transportation Fairness campaign.
Because TNC drivers are classified as "independent contractors" instead of employees, many of the traditional rights they would have in an employer-employee relationship are lost, including the right to organize with a union. Union organizers say that local regulation is the best way for these drivers to get fair representation in the current labor market.
Commissioner Nick Fish announced his goal of establishing a city TNC Wage Board, which will go before council on May 24 in conjunction with a hearing on regulatory agreements with the two companies. Fish says Seattle—which has proposed a minimum faire for TNC drivers—has a similar board for dealing with such disputes.
“This is a place where someone could go file a complaint, get a hearing, and hopefully get some justice," Fish said after his speech. “Most of the drivers are in limbo now. They’re not private contractors and they’re not employees, they’re somewhere in the middle.”
Enrique Kindermann, a Lyft driver, spoke at the rally. He says he rents a car through a Lyft program to work for them each day, but Lyft's insurance doesn't cover him unless he's actively driving to pick someone up or drop someone off.
“There’s too many drivers having the same issues, having up and down income, they’re all just trying to make a living and putting themselves at risk,” he said.
Kindermann added that his wages have gone down significantly in recent years due to increased competition from other drivers working for the same company. “They’re hiring too many drivers and they’re trying to stretch out the time that I drive. Instead of driving six hours sometimes I have to drive 12 [to make the same amount of money]" he said. “I used to bring in 700 bucks a week and now I barely bring in $550. And I’m still working 40 hours a week.”
Owen Christoffer is a Portland State University student and has been driving for Lyft and Uber for two and a half years. He says he first became concerned with the practices of the two companies when his rates of pay were lowered significantly in 2016.
“The rates were $1.50 per mile and then they became $1.15 per mile," he said. "This had the effect of pushing gross driver pay from maybe about $20 per hour to more in line with $15 per hour, and of course that’s before any expenses.”
He added that Lyft's limited accident insurance has a deductible of $2,500—an amount that could push drivers into poverty or homelessness if they get in an accident while on the clock. “If you go on GoFundMe and just search for Uber and Lyft drivers, you’ll find many, many people just looking to fund their own vehicle repairs.”
City Council's regulatory hearing for Uber and Lyft is scheduled for May 24.