One of the perks of an IPO, it’s often said, is all the free publicity it can bring. In the case Uber, however, the extra attention ahead of its long-awaited IPO may not be so positive.
Drivers working for Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing apps are organizing strikes in the U.S. and the U.K. on Wednesday, one day before Uber’s planned initial public offering. The strikes represent a network of local labor organizations arranging action in a number of cities.
In New York, participating drivers logged off Uber, Lyft, Via, and Juno apps between the rush hours of 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Organizers then planned to gather on the 59th Street and Brooklyn bridges holding banners and handing out leaflets. The day’s activities culminate in a 1 p.m. rally in front of Uber’s offices in Long Island City.
In Los Angeles, participating ride-sharing drivers will log off their apps at midnight and stay off for 24 hours. At noon, drivers have scheduled a rally in a park near Los Angeles International Airport, bookended by pickets at the airport’s departure gate.
In San Francisco, Gig Workers Rising is organizing a protest in front of Uber’s headquarters. Other actions are planned in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, Uber drivers who are members of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain staged a boycott of Uber’s app between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. in London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Glasgow, the Independent said.
The drivers are calling for a number of measures, including a living wage that takes into account the costs of maintaining vehicle upkeep, benefits that are routine for full-time employees and not contractors, and the end of unfair deactivations that can cause drivers to lose their livelihoods.
Lyft drivers staged a similar strike when the company went public in late March, although the action was limited to a few California cities. In fact, when Lyft announced surprisingly strong revenue growth this week, its executives explained that the attention its IPO generated helped bring in new riders. If the effect of the Lyft IPO strike was somewhat muted, the Uber strike may be felt more keenly.
Tensions between drivers and ride-sharing platforms have simmered for years, leading New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to enact late last year a minimum wage for drivers of $17.22 per hour after fees and taxes. But Lyft’s IPO along with Uber’s imminent offering are bringing those tensions to a full boil.
Uber and Lyft are under more pressure than ever to cut costs in hopes of becoming profitable. Meanwhile, the stock-based compensation paid to the companies’ full-time workers is leaving them flush with cash as drivers eke out a living wage. During the quarter when Lyft went public, the stock-based compensation it recorded surged to nearly $1 billion. As a result, Lyft’s loss ballooned nearly five times over to $1.1 billion in the same period.
Uber’s much larger IPO will likely lead the company to record a similar largesse to many of its workers, illustrating both the enriching power of the capital markets and the yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots in the gig economy. Wednesday’s strikes will be the drivers’ chance to plead their case for more, rather than less, equality for all those who have helped build Uber’s success.
For their part, the ride-sharing companies position themselves as their drivers’ ally, not their enemy. “Drivers are at the heart of our service─we can’t succeed without them,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “Whether it’s more consistent earnings, stronger insurance protections or fully-funded four-year degrees for drivers or their families, we’ll continue working to improve the experience for and with drivers.”
“Lyft drivers’ hourly earnings have increased over the last two years, and they have earned more than $10 billion on the Lyft platform,” a Lyft spokesperson told Fortune. “Over 75 percent drive less than 10 hours a week to supplement their existing jobs. On average, Lyft drivers earn over $20 per hour. We know that access to flexible, extra income makes a big difference for millions of people, and we’re constantly working to improve how we can best serve our driver community.”
For Rideshare Drivers Unlimited, a group organizing the Los Angeles protest, Lyft and Uber may as well be describing an alternative universe. At the heart of its grievance against Uber is the company’s move in March to cut driver compensation to 60 cents a mile from 80 cents. That may be a matter of a couple of dimes to Uber, but the group says the impact on drivers can be life altering.
To make its point, Rideshare Drivers United points to James Hicks, a three-year Uber veteran who was taking out payday loans to afford his family’s $2,300 monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment. “We are treading water so that we don’t drown,” Hicks said. “With Uber’s cuts this month, we had to bite the bullet.
“We moved across the hall into a one bedroom for $1,900,” Hicks said, “which is what our two-bedroom used to cost.”