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​Uber drivers demand higher pay in nationwide protest

Marching at airports across the country, drivers for the ride-hailing company join the "Fight for $15" campaign calling for a higher wage.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

Uber drivers will join forces with fast food, home care and airport workers in a nationwide protest on Tuesday. Their demand: higher pay.

Under the banner of the "Day of Disruption," drivers for the ride-hailing company in two dozen cities, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, will march at airports and in shopping areas carrying signs that read, "Your Uber Driver is Arriving Striking."

The protest underscores the dilemma Uber faces as it balances the needs of its drivers with its business. Valued at $68 billion, Uber is the highest-valued venture-backed company worldwide. But as it has cut the cost of rides to compete with traditional taxi services, Uber reportedly has experienced trouble turning a profit.

Uber doesn't consider its drivers employees, instead the company classifies them as independent contractors. This classification means the company isn't responsible for many costs, including health insurance, paid sick days, gas, car maintenance and much more. However, Uber still sets drivers' rates and the commission it pays itself, which ranges between 20 percent and 30 percent.

"I'd like a fair day's pay for my hard work," Adam Shahim, a 40-year-old driver from Pittsburgh, California, said in a statement. "So I'm joining with the fast-food, airport, home care, child care and higher education workers who are leading the way and showing the country how to build an economy that works for everyone, not just the few at the top."

The protests are being organized by the "Fight for $15" campaign, which has led dozens of strikes against companies to demand a minimum wage of $15 per hour and the right to unionize. The campaign has helped convince several companies, such as Facebook, Aetna and JP Morgan Chase, to raise pay to $15 per hour or higher for all employees.

"The Fight for $15 has become central to reversing the huge gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us," said Rebecca Smith, deputy director of National Employment Law Project. "And Uber has become a symbol of the kinds of low-wage, no-benefit jobs that exacerbate that gap."

Uber has said that drivers can make up to $30 per hour, but most drivers say they make far below that number. A November study by Jonathan Hall, an Uber employee and shareholder, says that Uber drivers make on average $20.19 per hour. But in urban areas, like Detroit, Houston and Denver, drivers make less than $13.25 per hour on average, according to a June report by Buzzfeed News.

Over the past few years, Uber drivers have staged various protests against the company. At times they've rallied against price cuts that affected their wages and on other occasions they've demanded to be classified as employees.

In April, Uber settled two similar class action lawsuits that involved roughly 385,000 drivers who wanted to be classified as employees. Under the settlement agreement, Uber was allowed to continue classifying its drivers as independent contractors but had to pay $100 million to the drivers involved in the suit. However, a federal judge rejected the proposed settlement in August, calling the offer unfair, inadequate and unreasonable.

Uber declined to comment on Tuesday's protests.

Fight for $15 expects tens of thousands of people to participate in the demonstrations, which is scheduled to kick off at 6 a.m. and last all day.

Update, November 29 at 11:07 a.m.: Clarifies Fight for $15 protesters are demanding a $15 minimum wage and union rights.