Uber & Lyft Threaten To Leave Minneapolis Over Driver Pay – Time To Fight Back!

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Adam Burch is a Minneapolis bus driver and a member of ATU Local 1005, writing in personal capacity.

Uber and Lyft drivers can’t afford to work for these rideshare companies. These drivers can barely make ends meet, getting paid just enough to cover the maintenance on their own personal vehicles, let alone anything left over for other living expenses. In Minnesota, a state-commissioned study found that Uber and Lyft drivers in Minneapolis and St. Paul are often paid below the equivalent of the minimum wage after expenses are deducted. 

However, Uber and Lyft would rather leave the Twin Cities by no longer operating any transportation services in the entire metro area – including the airport – than pay its drivers a living wage. The Minneapolis City Council voted to raise the pay for these drivers by setting a minimum pay, and in response the companies announced that they will leave the Twin Cities metro after threatening to do so if the legislation was passed. Similar legislation was put to a vote over a year ago in both Minneapolis and at the State, but the mayor and the governor – both Democrats – each vetoed the respective bills. This time the City Council had enough votes to override the Mayor’s veto. 

To justify his opposition to increasing rideshare pay, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is more than happy to use the cynical arguments from Uber and Lyft against the ordinance that go something like, “people with disabilities rely on these rides, so therefore drivers need to keep making poverty wages so Uber and Lyft stay happy, and anyone that wants to raise the driver pay is being ableist.” (Not a direct quote, of course.) But the Governor isn’t really that serious about protecting disability rights. If he was, he’d pressure City Hall to pass the municipal sidewalk shoveling ordinance from council member Robin Wonsley who is also championing this rideshare pay ordinance. If he really cared about Minnesota’s disabled residents he would do more for them than just use them to punish rideshare drivers. It’s shameful that the Governor would pit disabled people against these drivers in service of defending the profits of Uber and Lyft. 

This bullying is completely brazen from these corporations who are acting in tandem like a trust. However, it is expected that these corporations would behave like this. In 2020 Uber and Lyft successfully defeated a referendum in California that would have made drivers employees instead of the precarious “independent contractors” classification that they are in now which means they miss out on the little labor protections that most workers do have like paid sick leave, for example. That super exploited sub-classification is not enough for Uber and Lyft though, they have to keep their drivers making poverty wages too.

Unfortunately, this bullying campaign from Uber and Lyft is proving effective. Already, and as expected, Democratic members of the City Council are signaling that they are wavering in their support of the ordinance that they just passed last week with a veto-proof supermajority. One prominent council member has introduced a proposal that will, “buy time for the council, and potentially state lawmakers, to figure out a way to keep the ride-hailing giants from leaving when the ordinance takes effect May 1.” Workers know what that means; a sellout is coming if there’s no fight back. 

This comes as Uber and Lyft saw their stock values soar in February with double digit percentage gains as the companies are taking a bigger slice of each ride than it has in the past. Company profits have gone from 9% to 20.7% over the last three years. Even as the fares increase, driver pay has not kept up. Nationwide the median Uber and Lyft fare has gone up 50%, but median driver pay has only increased by 31% over the same period. 

The Minneapolis ordinance is a huge victory for rideshare drivers and shows what is possible when workers organize and fight in political struggle against even the biggest corporations. Drivers organizing as MULDA (Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association) – many of whom are East African immigrants – have been demanding this kind of legislation at the city and state level for years. However, the fight isn’t over. Uber and Lyft threaten to leave on May 1 when the new minimum wage law goes into effect. In the meantime, these companies are running to the Minnesota Capitol trying to get a state law passed in time that could override the city ordinance if their efforts to get the City Council to roll back their own ordinance fails. There they will be welcomed by a corporate friendly Democratic Governor who carried water for them last year when he vetoed a bill that would have raised driver pay. It is unlikely that these workers will find a veto proof majority in the state legislature like in Minneapolis City Hall. There it is likely that enough Democrats will vote with Republicans to keep driver pay down and corporate profits up, to the delight of the Uber and Lyft bosses.

However, the ordinance’s initial passing, which was a victory for drivers in Minneapolis, shows that workers can overcome corporate opposition from politicians in both parties. MULDA should call for a day of action at the Capitol to not just defend the ordinance that was passed in Minneapolis, but that Minnesota pass a bill that will extend the Minneapolis ordinance state wide. If that happens it is unlikely that Uber and Lyft will leave the state completely. The Minnesota labor movement – especially transit unions like ATU – should help organize its day of action with MULDA and turn out organized workers in solidarity with rideshare drivers. This should be connected to an overall demand to increase funding for essential public transit which is currently suffering from neglect.

Unions should go even further and organize a solidarity fund for locked out Uber and Lyft drivers if the bosses boycott does indeed take effect on May 1. ATU should tell our members to not collect any fare during the corporate boycott, in solidarity with the rideshare drivers, and the increased ridership from people in the Twin Cities that will be abandoned by Uber and Lyft, but still need to get around. ATU should demand that the Metropolitan Council expand Metro Transit’s paratransit and microtransit service for riders that need transportation services outside of fixed routes. This includes Metro Mobility for riders with disabilities.  

  • High quality transit for all! 
  • Tax corporations to expand mass transit and make it free and safe! 
  • ATU and all labor unions should show real solidarity with MULDA and unorganized workers everywhere who are in struggle.

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