Rideshare drivers and organizers from rideshare driver advocacy groups gathered on Broadway in Oakland Thursday to express outrage over a controversial billboard ad by Uber equating patronizing Uber with solidarity with the Black community.
The billboard ad reads: “If you tolerate racism, delete Uber. Black people have the right to move without fear.”
Demonstrators said that Uber is being hypocritical by outwardly supporting racial justice while also supporting California Proposition 22, which organizers said would permanently remove labor protections for rideshare and delivery workers, many of whom are people of color.
Uber’s billboard ad campaign, which launched on August 28, the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the March on Washington, places similar advertisements in 13 major U.S. cities. Some 78 percent of app-based drivers and delivery workers in San Francisco are people of color and 56 percent are immigrants, according to a study by UC Santa Cruz.
“It’s hypocritical. You have a billboard that is purchased by Uber who have created a ballot measure [Proposition 22] that creates no protections for their essential workers who happen to be predominately Black and Brown, and most of them are immigrants,” said Cherri Murphy, a leader of Gig Workers Rising who drove for Lyft until March.
Prop. 22 seeks to exempt app-based workers in California from classification as employees under AB5 but also offers increased benefits for workers including a guaranteed level of minimum earnings, compensating drivers for 30 cents per each mile driven, and funding for new health benefits for drivers who work at least 15 hours a week, among other benefits.
However, according to a study from the UC Berkeley Labor Center, Uber and Lyft drivers in California would earn $5.64 an hour on average after all expenses were accounted for, due to provisions in the ballot measure. Both Uber and Lyft have also stated that being forced to classify their drivers as employees would devastate their business model, and Lyft has threatened to leave California if forced to reclassify drivers.
Murphy said she believes that Uber’s publicly stated commitments to racial justice are intended as a smokescreen to protect their reputation as a progressive company as they try to circumvent classifying drivers as employees and granting them labor protections such as paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, and reimbursement for business expenses by passing Prop 22. As of Tuesday, total funding for Prop 22 exceeded $181 million, making it the most expensive ballot measure campaign in California’s history.
“Nothing about that sign says they are for Black lives. They don’t understand that racial justice is economic justice. The same conditions that kill Black and Brown people are the same conditions that exploit Black and Brown workers…it’s not by accident that a majority of those who are impacted by COVID-19 happen to be people of color,” said Murphy.
Mekela Edwards, an organizer with We Drive Progress and an Uber driver until stopping in March, said that Uber’s advertisement is offensive because it uses the trauma Black Americans suffer as a way to bolster their reputation, presenting itself as committed to racial justice while working to undermine labor protections for their drivers.
“How wonderful is it that Uber has the gall to exploit the emotions of Black people with this billboard. While I am disappointed, I am not surprised because gig companies like Uber have been exploiting drivers for years now,” said Edwards.
Edwards said that the lack of worker protections for drivers, especially those who are at risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19, forces drivers to make a terrible choice: either keep driving and risk exposing themselves to the virus, or face extreme financial hardship. Edwards, who suffers from asthma, has a 15 percent chance of dying if she contracts COVID-19, and has therefore been in self-quarantine and unable to work since March.
“I and countless other drivers have been faced with the same impossible choice. We either keep driving to make ends meet and risk getting sick or even dying, or we stop working. These are the only choices that gig companies like Uber has left us with,” said Edwards.
In addition to launching the billboard ad campaign, Uber has promised to double the number of Black employees in leadership and pledged to invest $10 million towards Black-owned businesses, among other commitments. Murphy, however, believes that gig companies such as Uber can only truly be allies with communities of color by classifying drivers as employees.
“You need to follow the law and qualify us as employees. We are classified as employees according to the Dynamex decision, the state Legislature, and the attorney general,” said Murphy.
Uber did not respond to requests for comment.