Your Valentine’s Day plans might be disrupted by Uber, Lyft strike

Do your Valentine’s Day plans involve skipping all that romance-killing traffic with an Uber or Lyft ride or a DoorDash food delivery? You might be wise to have a backup plan because some drivers intend to log off the apps on Wednesday as part of a multi-city strike to demand fair pay.

The work stoppage is expected to hit about 20 major cities across the U.S. and Canada, including Los Angeles. The action targets what is typically a busy holiday for ride-hailing and delivery giants.

Although there have been sporadic, isolated protests by drivers in various cities in recent years, organizers say the Valentine’s Day protest could be the most ambitious labor action to date, with drivers across the country coalescing organically.

Drivers are protesting what they describe as poor wages and rapidly shrinking transparency in how the companies pay drivers their share of earnings.

California gig law Proposition 22 — which was established by a voter initiative bankrolled by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other companies in 2020 — has hurt drivers, said Nicole Moore, a driver and the president of Rideshare Drivers United, the 20,000-member Los Angeles group coordinating local drivers.

The law promised some benefits to drivers — including a minimum earnings guarantee and healthcare reimbursement — but they have proved difficult to access or so minimal as to be useless, she said.

Drivers have complained that companies track their behavior on the apps to determine what the companies will pay the drivers, and the workers’ only power is to accept or decline a job.

“It’s a shell game and there’s no way to enforce this stuff because it’s all an algorithm in a black box — how we’re paid and whether or not we get benefits,” Moore said. The group is holding a protest at noon Wednesday outside an Uber drivers support hub in Westlake, west of downtown Los Angeles.

Uber and Lyft representatives dismissed the potential impact of the strike.

“These types of events have rarely had any impact on trips, prices or driver availability and we expect the same tomorrow,” Uber spokesperson Zahid Arab said in an email Tuesday. “During last year’s Valentine’s Day ‘strike,’ we saw an increase in trips in the U.S.”

Lyft spokesperson CJ Macklin said that “traditionally, these events have not had a meaningful impact on wait times or service levels.”

Macklin said Lyft made new commitments this month to increase driver pay and transparency. They include providing a clearer summary of the “new minimum earnings guarantee that drivers will always make at least 70% of the weekly rider fares after external fees,” he said.

He said the company is also providing a new in-app button for drivers to appeal deactivation decisions and providing direct access to a specialized support team focused on appeals. Drivers have complained that the apps haphazardly shut down their account access, and that the decisions are difficult to get reversed.

“We are constantly working to improve the driver experience,” Macklin said in an email.

Uber spokesperson Arab did not immediately respond to questions about concerns raised by drivers about pay.

Moore and other organizers and drivers said the Valentine’s Day strike wasn’t planned by any single group or person.

“We saw wildcat strikes percolating around the country … then someone threw out the date Feb. 14 and everyone latched on to it,” Moore said.

Drivers held isolated protests over the last year in various cities, including Chicago, Las Vegas, Denver, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami and Tampa. Most recently, drivers protested at airports in San Diego and Atlanta in December.

Luis Arias, 32, who has driven for Uber and Lyft since 2017, said he had never participated in driver protests before December.

But long workdays and shrinking earnings prompted him to help organize recent protests at San Diego Airport. Drivers protested at the airport’s waiting lot on Dec. 19 and marched to Terminal 2 in a Dec. 23 action.

“We have to work too many hours to get the money, and we spend a lot of money on gas, on car services. It feels very unfair,” Arias said.

Nascent organizing among San Diego drivers is gaining traction, he said. About 100 drivers participated in the first protest; now, the informal San Diego group has grown to some 600 members, Arias said.

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