Special Report: Live From the Uber and Lyft Driver Strike

On May 8, we saw what was probably the largest Uber and Lyft protest to date with drivers in a number of cities around the world going on strike anywhere from 2 hours to the full day. The protests garnered a ton of media attention and support from various labor groups across the country.

One of the main demonstrations was planned by Rideshare Drivers United in Los Angeles, and I was there for the noon rally to see what it was all about. Here’s how it went and what the strike is trying to accomplish.

image of Flyer from RDU
Flyer from RDU

Check Out My Live Vlog From the Strike

Why Are Drivers Striking?

It seems like the catalyst for this latest strike and the first strike was Uber’s rate cut in Los Angeles back on March 11 and the looming IPOs. Strikes aren’t exactly a new thing in the gig economy as there have been a number of small demonstrations over the years whenever Uber and Lyft cut rates, but the March protest outside the Uber Greenlight center had one of the best turnouts I’ve ever seen at a protest.

The other thing that’s different this time around is that organized labor groups have been helping out a lot of the driver groups around the country. There were several labor organizations that I spoke with at the protest that I had never even heard of, and they were passing out flyers, selling newspapers and explaining things to drivers. Like this one from ‘Class Struggle International Workers’.

image of Variety of groups were at the strike
Variety of groups were at the strike

Coordinating the Los Angeles Uber and Lyft Strike on May 8

Some drivers and reporters told me they had trouble getting information about the strike but overall, I thought it was well organized and well coordinated. After the first strike in March, I opted in to RDU’s text service (which you can do on their website) and ‘Jeff’ from RDU had been sending me periodic updates. About a week before the May 8 strike, RDU sent out most of the details of the strike via text (the red and white flyer above was also sent):

  • Apps off midnight to midnight on May 8th
  • Morning and afternoon picket at LAX
  • 12 noon rally

I also got a call/voicemail over the weekend from an RDU organizer and an e-mail from RDU on Monday morning, two days before the strike that had all the details of the strike:

Well-organized information about the LA strike

As you can see, there was a lot for RDU to organize considering they had shuttle buses, picketing slots to fill, the rally to set up and coordinating with media/members/drivers/etc. There was definitely a point in time where I was wondering if they would be able to pull it off, but by Monday, everything for the LA strike was pretty much set in stone.

It was hard for me to get detailed information about strikes in other cities, but it does seem like there were some successful strikes in places like New York City where the IDG organized a morning rally and in San Francisco, where Gig Workers Rising got a few hundred people out onto Market St. and had a cool band playing.

What Was the Rally in LA Like?

I’d estimate there were a couple hundred drivers in attendance at the noon rally and lots of media. The rally was held at a park just outside the airport and across from In N Out (LA drivers know this location well).

It lasted for about an hour and drivers, organizers and supporters took turns at the mic sharing stories, trials and tribulations and rallying the crowd. It was definitely a raucous atmosphere and everyone had plenty of passion and enthusiasm.

I was surprised though that there weren’t more drivers in attendance considering how much media attention and awareness this protest has gotten. One of the RDU organizers mentioned they are now up to 4,400 members but if there were 200 drivers in attendance, that’s only a 5% attendance rate. Not sure how that compares to other organizing efforts but it seems a bit low to me. A few things could have impacted the turnout though:

  • The strike was all day and there were about 100 picketers or so in the departures terminal before AND after the rally.
  • Apparently the shuttle bus got lost, so there was a full busload of drivers waiting at the parking lot to attend the rally and they showed up right as the rally was ending.
  • The time (noon on a Wednesday) was convenient but I know I had some hesitations about how easy it would be to park/take a shuttle bus/etc – so this may have drove away some drivers.
  • It’s been a couple months since the rate cut and some drivers may have quit or just lost interest.

I can only imagine how hard it is to organize rideshare drivers and while there’s always room for improvement, I would definitely give RDU an A grade (or 5 stars in Uber terms) for their efforts. This was the number one story on my social media newsfeed on Wednesday and, while it may not have had a huge direct impact on Uber or Lyft’s service, lots of people are taking notice.

What Do Drivers Want?

According to the RDU website, they are demanding a Drivers’ Bill of Rights. This would include things like:

  • An hourly minimum wage matching New York City’s $27.86 per hour before expenses
  • 10% commission cap on Uber and Lyft
  • Transparency around deactivations
  • The right of drivers to organize and negotiate with companies
  • Show drivers the estimated fare payment & the trip destination before accepting trip
  • Show complete fare breakdown with Uber or Lyft’s take on passenger receipt

I think the messaging on the website is pretty clear but during the rally, I heard speakers talking about all sorts of different things in regards to what they wanted. Many drivers mentioned healthcare and benefits, but I didn’t see any of that on the bill of rights. I talked to a few drivers not at the strike who told me they didn’t support the strike because they didn’t want to be employees. So there was definitely some mixed messaging out there since, to the best of my knowledge, RDU doesn’t have any demands around becoming employees.

One thing I like about the demands on the website though is that they don’t alienate anyone. Whether you’re young or old, full-time or part-time or male or female, I think we can all agree that we should be paid more and that Uber and Lyft should cap the commission. Now $28/hour and 10% commission might be a little extreme but in any good negotiation, you always ask for more than you want. So keep that in mind.

Did the Strike Achieve Anything?

It’s hard to say for sure if the strike had any impact on Uber and Lyft’s service but I took a couple screenshots during the noon rally of my driver app and saw zero surge across the entire city and an airport queue full with drivers.

image of Zero surge, airport queue full of drivers on strike day
Zero surge, airport queue full of drivers on strike day


There were lots of Uber and Lyft drivers dropping off passengers at the airport but I suspect most of them didn’t even know there was a strike or didn’t have the details. In my experience, I’ve found that a majority of drivers are not on social media and not hooked into the organizing channels so this is one of the big challenges of organizing drivers. How do you get the word out?

There are over 50,000 rideshare drivers in Los Angeles and a lot of them get all their information directly from Uber and Lyft. Of the remaining ones, it seems like a lot of the part-timers just don’t care enough to strike. Almost every driver I talked to at the protest had either been driving for several years and/or was doing at least 20-30 hours a week of driving. So they were quite invested in driving vs. a part-time driver who may just cut back on hours or quit altogether when rates get cut.

One area where the strike was a smashing success though was media attention. I fielded several media requests myself about the strike and I saw dozens if not hundreds of articles, stories and more about the strike. I know some drivers felt that the strike would have been more effective if done on a weekend or on a big holiday but media-wise, this was perfect timing. You have Uber’s IPO on Friday and this is just too juicy of a story for most outlets to ignore.

Related: Listen to my interview on Airtalk – Uber, Lyft drivers strike in anticipation of Uber IPO launch

We saw a number of Democratic presidential candidates tweet their support for the strike, and I think there’s real potential for this movement to shift political will, which could in turn get a lot of these demands met.

According to Matthew W. Daus, Esq., Transportation Technology Chair, City University of New York’s transportation research center, and former NYC Taxi and Limousine Commissioner/Chair,

Drivers around the country (and around the world), while not pulling off a full blown strike or labor stoppage, made their points by holding rallies and protests over various issues affecting TNC drivers working for Uber and Lyft.  The issues vary by state, but do involve calls for other cities outside NYC to adopt minimum wages and benefits for drivers (as well as more transparent procedures involving the termination of driver services from TNC platforms).

NYC and other drivers around the country stood in solidarity with California drivers organizing the work stoppage, and Uber and Lyft will need to listen closely and start to address these complaints – otherwise legislators may take action or competitors will enter the market to siphon disgruntled drivers to more driver-friendly TNC platforms.

NYC has already passed a minimum wage law and capped the number of rideshare vehicles. Other cities are considering similar legislation to NYC, and I imagine that these protests will only intensify that process. This seems like a huge risk to both Uber and Lyft, and I’m still speechless as to why Uber would cut the per mile rate by 25% just two months before they planned to IPO. Someone really screwed up and I think it shows that Uber is still pretty out of touch with driver sentiment despite their best efforts to listen to drivers.

So while I think this strike was a success, I’m curious to see the next steps the organizers plan to take since I was expecting more drivers to be at this protest. I think what they’re fighting for is a noble cause though and a lot of the issues they’re fighting for are exactly the types of issues I’m hearing about from drivers. Hopefully, the organizers will be able to plan something big and keep the momentum going and the pressure on.

Did you attend one of the protests held nationwide? What are your thoughts?

-Harry @ RSG