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After five years of working as a trucker, Ali Abdikarim moved over to drive for Uber. The flexibility of the rideshare app, the shorter hours and quick money made it seem attractive.
Less than a year later, however, Ali is done with Uber because of what he described as low pay, a lack of transparency, and issues of racism with customers.
Ali’s story is similar to those of other drivers who gathered Thursday at the Gale Mansion in Minneapolis to meet with two Uber representatives who flew in from New York. In what was the second meeting with Uber representatives, the Minnesota Rideshare Drivers Association’s members, most of them members of the Somali community, expressed their grievances to the company representatives.
Earlier Thursday, a separate organization, the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association, met with Minneapolis City Council members about a proposal to improve drivers’ benefits.
Uber would be nothing without its drivers, said Ali, 54. “We need each other,” he added.
Why are drivers organizing?
There are more than 1,500 ridesharing app drivers in the Twin Cities alone, according to Ahmed Ahmed, the organizer of Thursday’s meeting with Uber representatives.
The drivers face issues with compensation and a lack of benefits, Ahmed said. Drivers are considered independent contractors by ridesharing apps and are therefore ineligible for benefits such as paid leave, healthcare, and other forms of compensation.
Local organizers also want apps like Uber and Lyft to be more open about the way drivers are paid. Currently, a driver does not know how much a ride is costing the passenger, only how much they will be paid for the trip.
Drivers claim Uber and Lyft take more than 50 percent of what a customer pays. Uber’s formula for ride costs, including how much the driver gets paid, is not public. Drivers do, however, keep 100 percent of their tips.
One driver provided Sahan Journal with a screenshot of a recent trip from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to Clear Lake. The driver was paid just over $100 for the trip, which took more than two hours. The driver was paid nothing for the long return trip home.
Outside of low fares, racism and safety issues present a major concern for drivers locally. Ali said it’s a common occurrence for Somali or other immigrant drivers to face racial abuse from passengers, forcing drivers to purchase and install cameras for their safety.
An increase in bad reviews or reports made by passengers can lead to a driver’s account being deactivated by the ride-sharing app without notice. Some drivers have been injured while on duty.
“If drivers get hurt on the job, while they are on duty for driving, we are demanding unemployment insurance,” Ahmed said.
Second group focuses on lawmaker support
Earlier Thursday, members of the second drivers’ group rallied at City Hall in support of a policy proposal introduced by Council members Robin Wonsley, Jamal Osman, and Jason Chavez.
If passed, the policy would provide drivers who work for Uber and Lyft stronger protections around minimum guaranteed pay, insurance and safety provisions, and expanded basic workers’ rights.
The Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association, whose members gathered at City Hall, is led by Eid Ali, 48. Eid has been driving for Uber for almost nine years, before which he was a local cab driver and labor organizer.
The two organizations, which between them claim to have represented about 2,300 members since their inception, have the same goals but different approaches. Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association did not appear to talk with Uber representatives, instead focusing its efforts on possible regulation of the industry.
“They can promise us all these sweet things. But we don’t know if that’s gonna stick for the long term. For that reason, we need to get something that will remain for a long term,” Eid said. “And the only way we can do that is to just get some protections passed through the legislators or through the city ordinance.”
Freddi Goldstein, an Uber representative, said Uber would be willing to speak with the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association, but so far has only met with the Minnesota Rideshare Drivers Association.
Uber considers Minneapolis an important city, and plans to hold continuing conversations with drivers in the area, she said.
Thursday’s meeting with drivers mostly consisted of Uber representatives hearing frustrations and questions from Somali drivers. An interpreter explained what was being said, but the only time the representatives addressed the crowd, they just pledged to bring comments back to Uber.
After the event ended many drivers approached Goldstein with questions regarding deactivation of their account.
“I think drivers often find the deactivation process a struggle, and they’re looking for someone that can help them understand what happened or ways to appeal it,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein said it could take a few months before some of the issues mentioned Thursday could be addressed by Uber.
“Drivers want to understand exactly what the earnings look like and they want to feel safe. And those are things that we want for them too,” Goldstein said.
“What we would really love to do is find some compromise, and then work with some legislators who can help us move a bill that will guarantee some benefits for drivers,” Goldstein said. Uber representatives said that so far, they have focused on talking to the drivers, and haven’t held any formal talks with legislators.