Uber and Lyft Driver Rally Sparks Debate Over Whether Ride-Hailing Company Drivers Need Formal Representation

An Uber driver on a PBOT transportation committee says drivers are paid fairly enough. Commissioner Eudaly says she “wholeheartedly” endorses the creation of a Wage Board.

downtownpdx Downtown traffic on the east bank of the Willamette River. (Wikipedia User:Cacophony)

Around 70 Lyft and Uber drivers and Oregon AFL-CIO labor union supporters rallied outside of City Hall yesterday to air grievances over what they say are poor working conditions.

The coalition is campaigning City Commissioners to form a new board dedicated to protecting drivers at the ride-hailing companies.

Related: Portland Uber and Lyft Drivers Plan Rally At City Hall To Demand Better Working Conditions

Oregon AFL-CIO spokesman Russell Sanders says low pay, a lack of transparency and gaps in insurance coverage are the primarily complaints drivers have with the ride hailing companies.

Regional Uber spokesperson Nathan Hambley says those complaints don't have merit.

He tells WW in an email, "We regularly engage driver-partners and are constantly working to improve their experience using our app. We are committed to working with rideshare drivers, riders and the City to help address the region's transportation challenges and keep Portland moving forward."

Hambley says that there are around 6,000 active Uber drivers in Portland, and that those drivers collectively made $75 million last year.

When asked how much Uber grossed last year, what percentage of each ride Uber keeps, and if that percentage is the same for every driver and/or ride, Hambley said: "Uber driver-partners earn based on the work they perform, regardless of what a rider pays. We've been making improvements that bring full transparency into what an Uber driver-partner earns, what a rider pays and what Uber makes on every trip."

He declined to disclose Uber's earnings on Portland drivers, but cited a February Bloomberg article which noted the company's overall 2017 earnings as being $7.5 billion.

Hambley also noted that only around six-percent of Portland Uber drivers drive more than 35 hours per week (i.e. use the app like a full-time job).

He did not comment on the price drivers paid for insurance deductibles, but says that the plan covers drivers while they are logged in waiting for a request, when they are en-route to picking up a driver and when they have a passenger in the car.

Currently, via a Transportation Advisory Committee within the Portland Bureau of Transportation, representative drivers from various private Transportation Network Companies (TNC) meet to provide advice and recommendations to City Commissioners.

Ilene Brown, an Uber driver, sits on that committee. She says she applied to represent TNC drivers on the committee after Uber nominated her for the position. She adds that Oregon AFL-CIO reached out to her about the rally but she was not interested in attending.

Brown has a day-job and drives for extra money.

She says she has heard complaints from drivers about low wages but does not agree, and thinks unionizing will undercut the independent, work-when-you-want nature of the app.

"There will always be people saying 'we need more money,'" Brown says, "but I think the wages are fair."

Oregon AFL-CIO's Transportation Fairness campaign has support from Commissioner Nick Fish—a longtime Uber critic who also spoke at the rally.

In a Monday Facebook post, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly also threw her support behind “the creation of a Wage Board to finally give TNC drivers a seat at the table.”

“I wholeheartedly endorse this measure,” she wrote, “and look forward to creating a level playing field in the sharing economy.”

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