As Uber and Lyft drivers plan an international, coordinated work stoppage for portions of the day on Wednesday, May 8, some Chicago ride-share advocates say they want to leverage the large scale action to turn up the heat on City Hall.
“The time in Chicago for change is now,” said Eli Martin, a ride-share driver and organizer with the nonprofit Chicago Rideshare Advocates.
Martin said he wants to use the attention he hopes will be raised by the strike — planned in advance of Uber’s move to become publicly traded on the stock market later this week — to renew a push for local regulations that would improve working conditions for ride-share drivers.
“Our focus has singularly been on city government,” Martin said. “Over the last few months we were going to mayoral forums, aldermanic forums, debates, meeting with some alderman and mayoral candidates to get our message out that, hey, this system is unregulated, broken, and is hurting drivers, passengers, and the city.”
Martin said Chicago Rideshare Advocates is not explicitly encouraging local drivers to participate in Wednesday’s work stoppage, but supports drivers that choose to show solidarity with the international community by logging off for portions of the day. The group’s Facebook page has been sharing flyers and promotional materials for Uber and Lyft driver work stoppages around the world.
Martin said he began driving for ride-share companies when he was between jobs about five years ago. He said he has diabetes and cystic fibrosis and quickly realized it was a good option for him.
“I liked the freedom,” Martin said. “It allowed me to still put in full-time hours and work around my health issues.”
Martin said he never felt the job was easy or safe — he said he has been in a number of accidents and totaled his car. But he said he viewed those risks as part of the trade-off of driving sometimes upwards of 50 hours per week, and the pay outweighed the pitfalls of the job. That is, he said, until driver wages started falling in the past couple of years.
“Uber and Lyft don’t own the vehicles, they don’t pay any of the costs, they just process credit card payments and maintain an app,” Martin said. “And they have us classified as independent contractors — we don’t get health insurance, we don’t get paid time off. We don’t have any of those protections. We can’t negotiate pay.”
Martin said that has resulted in decreased quality of service, cars and drivers.
In a written statement, an Uber spokesperson said drivers are at the heart of the company’s service, and it will “continue to improve the experience for and with drivers.”
A Lyft spokesperson said the majority of the company’s drivers drive less than 10 hours per week in order to supplement their income, and Lyft is constantly working to best serve its driver community.
Martin said his group’s legislative agenda includes proposals for city regulations on a number of points that the ride-share companies fail to deliver to drivers. They include base fare increases and per-mile rates for drivers working in Chicago, a cap on the number of ride-share drivers that can be licensed, city-performed vehicle inspections, and umbrella insurance coverage for drivers, among other asks.
Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot did not return WBEZ’s request for comment.
Max Green is a WBEZ News Producer. Follow him @maxraphaelgreen.