Drivers for the ride-sharing app Uber protested in Los Angeles earlier this week, claiming the company, valued at $18 billion, has slashed their rates to an untenable level.
"I’ve experienced four cuts since I started," driver Aya Valilar, who has been working with the company a year-and-a-half, told CBS2/KCAL9. "It was $2.50 a mile when I started a year and a half ago, and now we are at $1.10 a mile. You can’t make a living off of that."
Uber takes a 20 percent commission on each ride, and drivers must pay for their own gas, car maintenance, insurance, and amenities such as water, gum, and phone chargers that clients have come to expect. While many customers assume that tips are factored into Uber rates, in fact no part of the fare is considered a tip.
In response, Uber issued a statement that read, in part: “Drivers are making more money now due to higher demand than they did before the price cut. We will continue to work with them individually to ensure their small businesses thrive.”
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The protest comes as Uber drivers are engaged in a larger fight for better working conditions. Last week, the California App-Based Drivers’ Association (CADA) met in El Monte, just east of Los Angeles, to formalize its affiliation with Teamsters Local 986.
“We look forward to working with CADA to help the drivers win fairness in the workplace and help them get recognized for the work they do making Uber and other app-based companies successful,” said Chris Griswold, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 986 in South El Monte. “These app-based companies need to start treating their professional drivers with the respect and dignity that they deserve.”
Joseph DeWolf Sandoval, CADA Leadership Council Member, told Common Dreams that Uber's rate cuts make it "extremely difficult to earn a living wage." He dismissed Uber's justification — that a higher volume of calls makes up for lower rates — as a "standard talking point" that doesn't bear out when you run the numbers.
"Uber is playing very fast and loose with their claims and calculations," Sandoval said, suggesting that the only way to maintain a living wage, under the new conditions, is to drive more than is legally allowed for a commercial driver. CADA is also critical of Uber's lack of meaningful communication with drivers — the company has flat-out refused to meet with CADA, and drivers don't feel comfortable voicing grievances at Uber's recently established "office hours" — and what Sandoval described as a "biased rating system" that "hangs over drivers' heads like a sword on a slender thread."
Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While the ride-sharing app is hugely popular, it has recently encountered some stumbling blocks. A similar protest over rates took place in Seattle last month. And on Tuesday, Germany took the unprecedented step of banning Uber nation-wide, saying the lack of licenses and insurance constituted a violation of the country's competition law.