Ride-hailing company Uber often brags about how it helps drivers make a living with lots of flexibility.
But Eric Barajas, a full-time driver for the company in San Francisco, is still struggling to make ends meet. So on Friday, he took out his frustration publicly on Uber advisor David Plouffe, while he appeared on stage at a technology conference.
Barajas, seated in the audience, asked Plouffe why he made far less than the $35 per hour shown in the ad that lured him into applying for the Uber job. His message: Uber is misleading drivers about how much money they do earn.
“We’d like to sit down with you and talk about how we can improve your situation,” Plouffe responded.
Plouffe, who is best known as Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, argued that drivers generally give Uber positive feedback and that they are satisfied, hinting that Barajas’s comments won’t prompt any big changes for the company. He then added that each driver’s situation is unique.
The exchange reflects an undercurrent of tension between Uber and some of its drivers. For example, a few weeks ago, a small group of drivers staged a protest in front of Uber’s headquarters to demand higher wages and tips, among other things.
On Thursday, Barajas participated in a group discussion on-stage at the same conference, hosted by O’Reilly Media, along with drivers for ride-hailing rival Lyft and a traditional taxi service. During that talk, Barajas said he makes nearly $1,050 per week while working 11 hours daily, six days per week. That pay, however, excludes insurance, car lease payments, and up to $50 in gasoline daily.
But Plouffe’s invitation to Barajas prompted a different set of concerns for him: Would actually going to Uber’s San Francisco office to chat about his challenges as a driver result in the company barring him from continuing to drive for Uber? That has been the fate of several Uber drivers who have “spoken up,” according to Barajas, who didn’t name any names.
He told Plouffe that he too is worried about losing the job that currently supports his family.
But Plouffe responded that Uber only deactivates drivers based on their ratings from passengers, which the company uses to monitor driver quality. When a driver’s rating dips below a certain number, the company has been known to deactivate their account.
“The rating system is very important, and it’s not for speaking up,” Plouffe reassured Barajas.
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