“It’s unfair,” he said of the public offering. “The bosses are getting billions in their pockets while drivers are living on poverty wages.”
The strikes were set to be replicated in other cities, including New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles, and in front of Uber headquarters in San Francisco by the end of Wednesday. The action was supposed to be one of the biggest coordinated efforts by drivers to demonstrate their grievances to Uber, organizers and drivers said. Drivers for other ride-hailing services, such as Lyft, were also expected to take part.
At La Guardia Airport in New York around 8 a.m., there was little evidence that the strike was having much impact. Cars driving for Uber and Lyft were picking up passengers and one airport worker said the flow of for-hire cars was typical for the time of day. Most drivers interviewed said they were either unaware of the strike, or, if they knew about it, unable to participate because they needed to earn money.
“I don’t think anything will be done,” said Aneudy Landof, 40, an Uber driver. He said he earned more driving for the company driving nine hours a day, seven days a week, than he would at a regular 9-to-5 job, but acknowledged that some people would not satisfied with that. “People are never happy, people want to make a million dollars a day.”
At the heart of the drivers’ frustration is their status as independent contractors, not full-time workers. Ride-hailing companies argue that drivers prefer the flexible schedule that comes with being a freelancer. But drivers lack full-time benefits like health care and have said they have little control over their wages because companies like Uber set the fares their and take a cut of the fees they earn from rides.
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The strikes are timed right before Uber’s public offering, with the company set to start trading its shares on the stock market on Friday. Uber is the biggest of a generation of technology start-ups whose business is based on smartphones and that uses gig workers. It has set an initial pricing for its shares that values it at $91 billion and its founders and investors are set to reap billions of dollars in wealth.
But that windfall will largely skip the drivers. Although Uber has said it intends to award cash bonuses to more than 1.1 million drivers — with those in the United States having the option to buy the company’s stock in the I.P.O. — drivers have called that a fig leaf. They said the wealth being gained by top executives and private investors had prompted the action on Wednesday.