By Bianca Barragan, October 24, 2014
Uber drives organized their first protest this week in Los Angeles over what sound like some pretty raw working conditions. A new union of Uber drivers (California App-Based Drivers Association) has just joined a Teamsters chapter and is speaking out against new fare reductions (which now make Uber cheaper than LA's buses), a huge increase in the commissions taken out by Uber, a "misleading tipping policy," and the company's rating system, which gives all the weight to reviews from riders, regardless of how horrible they may be, reports Neon Tommy. Here's a list of working conditions the Uber drivers want to change:
· "Uber used to take only a 5 percent commission from drivers' total fares. That number has now risen to 25 percent," says Joseph De Wolf, an Uber Black driver who is also also cofounder and executive committee member of the new union. (Uber also takes a dollar off the top of every ride as a "safe ride fee.")
· That is pretty nuts on its own, but it's also been coupled with a hefty fare cut. According to DeWolf, in December 2013, UberX (the least expensive Uber service) charged $2.40 a mile, with a base rate of $4; now the rate's just $1.10 a mile, with a base rate of eight cents.
· That's especially painful considering that, as independent contractors, drivers have to pay for their own gas and car-related expenses. Eighty cents of gas is not going to get anyone anywhere.
· The company's rating system, which has riders rate drivers, uses one- to five-star grading. Drivers whose average dips below 4.7 stars get a warning email and are deactivated until they take a class about improving their rating; if their rating goes below a 4.4 after the class, they're permanently deactivated, which amounts to being fired.
· This is probably a well-intentioned attempt to hold drivers to high standards, but the effect is often that drivers who are asked to do potentially unsafe things (like, say, fit eight people into a car) are worried that if they don't do what their fare wants, it could result in them being fired.
· Drivers also take serious issue with the impression that Uber gives users about tipping. As one Uber driver put it, the company "brainwashes the public, saying the tip is included. It's never been included."
Uber, for its part, says it's reducing fares for a really good reason. "We just want to be the biggest company in the world, whatever we need to do to find more clients," a general manager with Uber West Coast tells NT.