The Uber office in Santa Monica faced a rally of angry Uber drivers yesterday, more than a hundred car drivers, their families, and members of the Teamsters Union protested outside. The protest was meant to address some issues drivers have with Uber's policies, specifically their inability to unionize, and holes in the insurance policy.
Technically, Uber is not a car service. They are the technology platform that connects drivers to people that need rides. Because of this, Uber drivers are actually employed as independent contractors. This means they cannot form unions. While a union would allow drivers a larger voice within the company, it is a lot to ask of a company that fundamentally does not want to be a car service. Additionally, Uber has boasted how much their drivers make, so they have already undercut the argument that their drivers have trouble making minimum wage.
There was also the matter of insurance. Drivers of UberSUV and UberBlack, the largest, more luxurious car options, have driver-paid insurance policies. The policies cover the car and driver when the cars are "on the clock." But for UberX, the lowest cost, smaller car option, there is an insurance loophole. If the UberX driver is on duty, but they do not have a passenger in the car, the insurance is not active. Drivers and insurance companies are backing AB 2293, which if passed by the State Assembly in California would force coverage during the periods when a passenger is not in the car.
Some drivers also took issue with the rating system. Drivers chanted "Ratings must go!" during the protest. One driver, Lotfi Benyedder, had this to say about the ratings:
The [rating] system in unfair. A driver was given one star and was deactivated from the system for five days, the guy has kids to feed, has family, has bills and he was not able to drive because a difficult client gave him one star. He sent several emails to Uber and they did not respond until after six days and then they wanted him to take a class, when it was not even his fault. This rating system needs to stop. No more rating! If the client wants to give feedback they can always send an email and have a fair process of deactivation and hear what the other side has to say.
It's been a rough couple days for Uber, but they are focused on communication with their drivers. Uber spokesperson Eva Behrend told The Wire in an email statement,
While Uber is focused on a great experience for riders and economic opportunity for drivers, the Teamsters Local 986 is focused on recruiting membership and filling their coffers. Partner drivers grow successful small businesses thanks to the freedom, flexibility, and economic opportunity afforded by the Uber platform. Uber partner drivers have a direct line into the Uber team and we will continue to work with them to ensure their small businesses thrive.”
Meanwhile, on the East Coast, there is another Uber protest going on in Washington, this one coming from non-Uber drivers, who like many taxi and limo drivers in other cities, are seeking more regulation of hailing apps.