Worker's Rights

Uber and Lyft Drivers Set to Strike Before Uber IPO

Uber and Lyft drivers in several major cities across the globe are planning a 2-hour strike set for May 7, 2019- the day before Uber shares begin to trade publicly. Labor groups who are organizing the strike are protesting the companies’ payment and labor practices, and hope that their early morning-rush hour strike will cause enough congestion to not only make Uber and Lyft executives take notice, but also the financial press covering the much awaited Uber IPO.

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

According to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, rideshare drivers in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles are scheduled to go on strike from 7AM to 9AM on Wednesday, May 8th. According to the Independant, the participating cities in the UK include London, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Glasgow.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has released three demands to coincide with the strike:

  1. In solidarity with our driver brothers and sisters fighting to stop poverty and debt and in support of their national demands!

  2. To win Job Security for App Drivers by ending Unfair Deactivations in NYC!

  3. To secure a Livable Income by ending the scam of Upfront Pricing where passengers pay more but drivers earn less. Regulate the fare Uber/Lyft/Juno/Via charge passengers, and cap the Companies' commission, guaranteeing 80-85% of the fare to the driver!

Uber is projected to go public at the largest, or one of the largest valuations for an IPO. According to the New York Times, “Uber expects to be worth as much as $91 billion when it starts selling shares next month, making its initial public offering one of the largest in the history of the technology industry.”

While the rideshare company has become a political behemoth, noted for its bull-headed early strategy of entering markets before laws were created to accommodate it and treating cities like its own private laboratory, this moment before Uber’s IPO is also one of its most vulnerable. According to Business Insider, “Dara Khosrowshahi could get a huge payday — totaling more than $100 million according to a source — if Uber's IPO valuation hits $120 billion and stays at that level for 90 consecutive days.” This means that Uber’s CEO has $100 million on the line to make Uber’s transition to public company as smooth and valuable as possible.

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

If drivers are able to generate enough strain on the rideshare systems to cause a public outrage, or even just a media one, then the drivers who are often considered to be exploited by rideshare companies can leverage this window of opportunity to either guarantee that Uber’s CEO doesn’t get his $100 million bonus, or demand more livable wages and treatment.

Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders has even responded to the strike in a statement on Twitter, “Uber says it can't pay its drivers more money, but rewarded its CEO with nearly $50 million last year. People who work for multibillion-dollar companies should not have to work 70 or 80 hours a week to get by. I stand with the Uber and Lyft drivers going on strike on May 8.”

Although not specifically tied into the driver IPO strike, the environmental nonprofit and activist group, Sierra Club, has also entered into the fray with a new campaign, that takes advantage of the IPO media, to urge Uber and Lyft to electrify their fleet. In a statement to the Verge, Andrew Linhardt, deputy advocacy director at the Sierra Club said that, “they need to put real funding behind these incentive programs, especially for full-time drivers, and get them more quickly into electric vehicles. They have the market power to help shape the EV market.”

Whether it’s workers rights, fair pay, or vehicle electrification— Uber, and its executive team, have a lot to consider before their upcoming IPO. Uber is set to become one of the largest, if not the largest, IPO in market history at around a valuation of $91 billion. While there has been much mythologizing about Uber’s executive culture of relentlessness, in actuality it’s their drivers whose backs they built their fortunes on. Rideshare companies like to tout their environmental nature and efficiency, but in actuality their fleet still burns gas. With the May 8th strike, hopefully those who will benefit least from the company’s windfall will begin to have their say.

Offering Mental Health Benefits at Work Is Good Business

In the 24/7 economy, more and more full-time employees are reporting feeling burned out at work. Workplace alienation, unreasonable expectations, ubiquitous hours, unmanageable task-load, workplace politics, and the overwhelming necessity of having to be available via email and text at all hours are all key contributors as to why the modern workforce is feeling burned out.

According to a Gallup study, 23 percent of full-time employees report feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44 percent reported feeling burned out sometimes. This burnout can be translated into stress that interrupts interpersonal relationships, to physical ailments in its extremes like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45. All of this healthcare spending adds up to around $125 billion to $190 billion in health-care spending each year.

Stress and burnout are very real problems that the modern day workforce are dealing with, and when that stress and burnout couples with undiagnosed, untreated, or inaccessible mental health issues, the complications can be even more severe. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness, ranging in severity, with 40% of adults with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder not receiving treatment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, untreated mental illnesses cost about $100 billion a year in lost productivity due to hospitalization, loss of employment, impacted productivity, and shortened life spans.

Treatment for mental health is currently out of reach for many people. It takes time, money, and access to be able to begin treatment- that is why so many go untreated. There is also a stigma involved with mental illness, and for some that stigma is a barrier to health. If employers were to begin incorporating mental health access into their benefits, for all employees regardless of company status, such a move could be the groundswell of destigmatization that the mental health crisis facing us needs.

Companies at the top are already trying this approach to employee benefits to great success. The Silicon Valley juggernaut, Netflix, already sees this as a necessity in the modern workplace, and offers their employees the ability to take time for themselves when they need in addition to access to mental health services and parental leave. American Express offers employees on-site counseling, something that goes a long way for the destigmatization of therapy.

These efforts aren’t just ideas that sound good, they’re actually having a real and measurable impact on these businesses’ bottom line. According to the World Health Organization, “for every $1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.” Meaning that when companies take their employee’s mental health seriously, they become four times as healthy and productive.

If these policies and programs can be scaled to the point where all employees have access to mental health treatment, then that could completely revolutionize how and who gets access to mental health. Such a change could revitalize not only our workspaces, but also how we relate to one another as a society. It is clear that investing in employee mental health offers numerous benefits personally, interpersonally, and at large. What needs to be clearer is how all employers can get there.

Uber Set to Offer Their Best Drivers a College Tuition

In an effort to boost driver satisfaction and loyalty, Uber is launching a new program called Uber Pro. Amongst other perks, the rideshare company is offering its best drivers free college tuition through a partnership with the University of Arizona’s online program. The incentive covers both undergraduate and graduate programs that the school offers, and is good for as long as drivers maintain their status in the perk system.

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

Uber Pro is a tier based incentives program designed by Uber to both improve relationships with its drivers, and also discourage them from driving with its major competitor, Lyft. In addition to college tuition, drivers can earn up to a 6% bonus on fares, free car repair for dents and scratches, cash back on gas purchases, and free 24/7 roadside assistance. The rewards are broken into segments, and as drivers drive more (while keeping their positive reviews), they will earn better and better rewards.

In order to be eligible, you need to meet a few qualifications. Uber Pro is designed for people who drive for Uber professionally—hence the name Uber Pro. That means people who drive for Uber regularly, and not just as an occasional lark. Uber isn't planning to restrict based on hours, however, qualifying applicants must have a high review rating, with a minimum of 4.85 stars, and a low cancellation rate of less than 4%. The goal isn't so much to encourage drivers to drive more, but to make sure when they are driving they are giving customers their all.

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

Although the free college tuition is restricted to just one college and online courses only, you can still get 80 different undergraduate degrees using the program, fully funded by Uber. The courses, offered by the University of Arizona, are advertised to be the exact same coursework as their in person courses. They also have skill programs tailored to helping you in life, such as English language courses in addition to more technical offerings and graduate programs. For cash strapped students and drivers, this is an opportunity that may be too good to resist. To make the incentive accessible for even more drivers, Uber allows drivers to transfer the tuition to another person in their family.

Right now the pilot program is only being tested in eight cities. It's available to all drivers in Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, and Phoenix, and to about half of drivers in Denver, New Jersey, Orlando, and Tampa.

There are four tiers to the program. Partner, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. In order to receive free college tuition you need to achieve either Platinum or Diamond status. You have the opportunity to go up or down in status once every 3 months, so even if you have a bad week, you still have the opportunity to do better and recover your status. You can also lose your status if you start exhibiting poor driving skills after achieving your coveted level.

After the initial test period, Uber plans to expand the program nationwide. If successful, this will become a great opportunity for Uber’s drivers- either giving them economic mobility that may have otherwise been out of reach or furthering them or a family member along in their professional life. While there are still issues in the relationship between rideshare companies and the people they contract to drive for them, this is an incentive offered in good faith that makes that relationship seem less tenuous.

Why We Need a $15 Minimum Wage

By Caroline Hsu

Though many of us don’t notice it, there’s a crisis brewing surrounding minimum wage and near-minimum wage jobs in the United States. Retail workers, food service employees, janitors, delivery drivers, and caregivers are among the lowest-paid employees in the United States, despite the fact that their work forms the backbone of modern American society. Because their jobs don’t necessarily require very much training or prior education, their labor is both undervalued and underpaid. The fight to raise the minimum wage is borne out of the idea that all employees should earn enough to support themselves and their dependents, regardless of their age, education level, or amount of job training. The work that minimum wage employees do ensures that society as we know it functions smoothly, and the least we can do as American citizens is to fight for business owners and corporations to compensate them fairly for their labor. 

In 2017, about 23.2 million people earned minimum or near-minimum wages, which fall anywhere between the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour and $10.10 an hour. Another 1.8 million people earned less than the federal minimum wage per hour. (This is possible for employees who earn tips, full-time students enrolled in work-study programs, and certain workers with disabilities.) The food service industry employs the most minimum wage, below-minimum wage, and near-minimum wage employees, but industries like sales, caregiving, administrative support, janitorial services, and transportation also employ hundreds of thousands of minimum wage employees. 

What are the overall demographics of minimum wage employees? About half of minimum wage employees in the US are aged 16 to 24. Over three-quarters of minimum wage employees are white. 20% have not finished high school. 36% have earned a high school diploma or GED. 37% have some form of college education, but have not earned a bachelor’s degree. From these statistics, we can surmise that the average minimum wage employee in the US is relatively young, white, and has not pursued any form of higher education after high school. 

The federal minimum wage in the United States has been set at $7.25 an hour since 2009. This current rate actually has less purchasing power than previous federal minimum wages. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage’s purchasing power was highest in 1968, when it was equivalent to about $8.68 per hour in 2016 dollars. Most states and territories have established legislation that sets their own minimum wages, which means that many minimum wage workers in the US are able to earn slightly more than the federal rate, ranging anywhere from $7.50 to $11.50 per hour. At first glance, this sounds like good news, but the actual state of minimum wage in the US is not quite that simple. Among countries with a comparable GDP per capita, the United States pays its minimum wage employees abnormally poorly. According to the Economist, if the federal minimum wage in the US were proportional to the federal minimum wages in similarly wealthy countries, all American minimum wage employees could expect to earn about $12 per hour. 

Even if the US were to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, which is highly unlikely due to current Republican control of Congress, those wages still would not be enough to allow many employees to support themselves and their families. MIT economics professor Amy Glasmeier runs a US living wage calculator, which estimates the minimum income that a family with two working parents and two children would need to survive in the US without relying on public assistance or holding multiple jobs. This calculation takes into account housing, food, medical care, childcare, and transportation. As of 2015, the living wage in the United States for a family of four is $15.12 per hour, which is significantly higher than even the most generous of state minimum wages. In order for a single parent with two children working a federal minimum wage job to survive without public assistance, they would have to work 139 hours per week. Just for comparison, the standard for full-time employment in the United States is 40 hours per week. 

Because many hourly-wage jobs just don’t pay enough to support families, a significant number of hourly employees are forced to take on multiple jobs. In September of 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that approximately 7.7 million workers held multiple jobs, an alarmingly high rate that hasn’t been seen since the mid-1990s. However, the actual number of multiple job-holders is likely even higher than the statistics reported by the Department of Labor. Though they may not realize it, wage or salary employees who also run a part-time, self-employed business also count as multiple job holders. An indeterminate number of multiple job holders may be withholding that information from the federal government so that their secondary income remains untaxed. 

Clearly, the state of the American minimum wage is so dire that many hourly employees are forced to rely on public assistance or additional jobs just to make ends meet. However, there is progress being made on state, local, and corporate levels. In early 2018, 18 different states began to increase minimum wage rates by about $1 per hour, including Maine, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington state. Additionally, the state of California and New York City have both announced that they will be raising their minimum wages to $15 over the next 5 years. Finally, companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Target have recently announced increases in their corporate minimum wage regulations for part-time, full-time, and seasonal employees. Important progress is definitely being made in the fight for a higher minimum wage on both the political and corporate level, but many skeptics still oppose the raising of wage floors. 

Although the debate surrounding minimum wage is incredibly multifaceted, with factors including national employment rates, commodity prices, economic vitality, inflation, racial and gender equality, and tax rates, the heart of the argument for a higher minimum wage is empathy. There is an intense stigma against minimum wage jobs and the people who work them. For many people, entry-level, minimum wage jobs are generally considered to have little societal value. Minimum wage jobs are often characterized as temporary summer work for young high school or college students looking to earn a little spending money. Otherwise, they’re considered to be bottom-of-the-barrel employment for the lazy, unintelligent, and unmotivated. These generalizations do a disservice to the vast majority of minimum wage employees, who are just as diligent and hardworking as any salary-earner. 

Anyone who has ever worked a minimum wage job, even temporarily, can tell you that the daily demands of the food service, retail, caregiving, janitorial, and transportation industries are just as demanding, if not more taxing, than a 9-to-5 office job. Minimum wage employees are often asked to work 6 to 14-hour shifts every day of the week, with little or no opportunities for a break. For the duration of their shifts, cashiers, food service workers, and retail associates are frequently forbidden from sitting down, which means that they must remain on their feet for hours on end. Minimum wage workers endure verbal abuse and harassment from entitled customers, physically uncomfortable working environments with insufficient heating or air conditioning, and exposure to unclean or unsanitary substances on a day-to-day basis. Their work is the foundation for the fast food industry, the movie business, the brick-and-mortar retail industry. Minimum wage workers clean up after our messes, deliver our packages, care for our children and elders, and prepare our food. And yet, despite the fact these jobs form the backbone of our society, the people who hold them are not even paid a living wage.  

If you’re interested in joining the fight for a $15 minimum wage, even if you’re not a minimum wage employee yourself, there are several ways you can get involved. First, do your research into political candidates at the local, state, and federal levels who support increasing the minimum wage. If you’re able, donate or volunteer for their campaigns. At the very least, do your civic duty and vote! Additionally, try to support small businesses and larger companies that have demonstrated a sustained commitment to paying their employees fairly. Look into the wage policies of the businesses you frequent. If possible, try to support as many businesses that pay a living wage as you can. Although these steps might seem small and ineffectual, they can make a huge difference in convincing corporations and legislators to start paying hourly employees fairly!