Uber and Lyft drivers rallied at the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday, May 25, 2023, to support a bill that would increase their wages and provide other protections. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Governor Tim Walz vetoed legislation Thursday that would have increased wages for Uber and Lyft drivers and provided them with other workplace protections.

It was the governor’s first veto in his five years in office, which didn’t set well with many lawmakers of color who noted that it affected legislation created by and for people of color. A majority of the drivers who mobilized around the legislation are of Somali and East African descent.

“I’m very disappointed in the governor and his administration,” Representative Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, told Sahan Journal in an interview. “I’m disappointed that he decided to go this route, and the only bill his fifth year in office—the only bill that he vetoed—is a bill that benefits Black and brown drivers who are predominantly immigrants is really really something that is truly shocking.”

Walz’s announcement came as several Uber and Lyft drivers wrapped up a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol Thursday afternoon demanding that the governor sign the bill into law. Walz also issued an executive order “commissioning a study and convening a working group of drivers, riders, rideshare companies, members of the disability community, and labor to issue recommendations for rideshare legislation next year,” according to a news release from his office.

“Rideshare drivers deserve fair wages and safe working conditions. I am committed to finding solutions that balance the interests of all parties, including drivers and riders,” Walz said in the news release. “This is not the right bill to achieve these goals. I have spent my career fighting for workers, and I will continue to work with drivers, riders, and rideshare companies to address the concerns that this bill sought to address.”

Senator Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, called on Walz Monday to “do the right thing” and sign the bill into law. Omar could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday, but he issued a series of tweets about 4:45 p.m. criticizing the veto and Walz’s administration for allegedly not reaching out directly to drivers.

“Today, we saw the power corporations hold on our government despite the trifecta,” Omar tweeted, referencing the DFL control of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Senate, and governor’s office. “After a year of stakeholder engagement, passing all required committees in both chambers, and both floors, the governor has vetoed the bill to improve working conditions for Uber/Lyft drivers.

“While Uber and Lyft had access to the administration and elected officials, I want to make it clear that not once has the administration reached out to the drivers. Not one conversation.”

Walz’s office could not be immediately reached regarding Omar’s remarks.

Senator Zaynab Mohamed, DFL-Minneapolis, also tweeted about the veto around 5:11 p.m. saying that drivers deserved better.

“They’re paid poverty wages, they’re harassed on the job, and they can’t afford to feed their families. I am extremely disappointed, but I won’t stop fighting,” Zaynab tweeted.

Uber issued a statement Thursday prior to Walz’s announcement saying it would stop serving Minnesota outside of the metro area if he signed the bill.

“Following several months of unanswered requests to work with legislators on comprehensive legislation that provides flexibility and benefits to drivers without compromising service for riders, we are left with a bill that will make it impossible to continue serving most areas of the state,” said Uber spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein. “If the bill is signed into law, beginning August 1, Uber will stop operating our rides service outside of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. In the metro area, we will only offer premium products to match the premium prices required by the bill.”

Representatives of the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association (Mulda), who rallied at the Capitol Thursday, could not be immediately reached for comment.

“Governor, sign the bill!” drivers chanted at the Capitol.

After Walz announced his veto, Uber issued another statement saying they would be willing to compromise on future legislation.

“While it was always our goal to pass comprehensive legislation this session that would raise rates for drivers while providing them the flexibility and benefits they tell us they want, that is not the bill we ended up with. We appreciate the opportunity to work together to get this right and hope the legislature quickly passes a compromise in February,” Uber said in a written statement.

Lyft issued a statement of its own thanking the governor for his veto and saying it looks forward to “continuing our engagement” on future legislation in Minnesota.

“We appreciate Gov. Walz listening to many in the community, vetoing the bill and instead creating a task force to properly study these important issues. Lawmakers should pass fair pay and other protections,” said Lyft’s statement. “But it must be done in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the affordability and safety of those who rely on the service.”

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Uber and Lyft drivers rallied at the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday, May 25, 2023, to support a bill that would increase their wages and provide other protections. Governor Tim Walz has not said whether he will sign the bill into law or veto it. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Hodan, who authored the House version of the rideshare bill, echoed Omar’s concerns that Walz’s office left drivers out of the conversation.

“He has met with everybody who has concerns about the bill,” Hodan said. “But he has never met with the drivers—not even once and they were sitting in front of his office for over a week. So, that really tells me that there was not much consideration for the drivers.”

Hodan said she’ll work to bring another bill up next year and hopes the governor and his office will work with the drivers. She also noted that the bill was brought up organically by “average Joes” instead of a special interest or lobbyist group.

“This was a bill that was put together by just the drivers. There’s no fancy lawyer or lobbyist. There’s no interest group that’s pumping money to campaigns,” she said. “This were just like the average Joes trying to organize themselves and say that, ‘We have a problem, and we need a solution for it.’ So, for Governor Walz to use his veto power on a bill that protects workers and tries to even the playing field for corporate America and the working people is really shocking to me.”

The Minnesota House and Senate People of Color and Indigenous Caucus also issued a statement Thursday evening noting their disappointment with Walz and his veto.  

“We are disappointed in Governor Walz for vetoing the rideshare legislation,” said the caucus’ statement. “Moreover, it is disheartening that the first veto of his term would be against worker protections for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] and immigrant drivers. On a day where we are focused on remembrance, community healing, and recommitting to addressing the inequities in our society, the Governor’s veto allows for the further exploitation of these hardworking Minnesotans. This perpetuation of harm will be another memory that will be ingrained in the minds of BIPOC and immigrant workers across our state.    

By vetoing the bill, Governor Walz discredited the amount of work legislators, community leaders, and advocates put in to ensure the bill was reflective of worker needs and stakeholders’ concerns. We cannot forgo action to spend more time studying an issue… We don’t need to hear more horror stories from Uber and Lyft drivers and their scared family members to seek improved worker protections for their loved ones.” 

During a Monday news conference for the House and Senate People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, Omar asked Walz to sign the bill commonly referred to as the Uber/Lyft bill.

The bill would have ensured an increased minimum wage and added protections for drivers who work for rideshare companies.

“So, about a month ago before the bill passed we sat with the governor’s staff. We walked them through the bill and they made a commitment at that time that they would sign the bill if it goes through the House and the Senate,” Omar said at the Monday news conference. “Now that we’re at that stage, I would love to see them keep their promise that they made to us and the workers and the drivers.”

The bill has been heavily supported by Uber and Lyft drivers who have appeared in large numbers at the Capitol during the final weekend of the legislative session.

Rideshare companies consider the drivers independent contractors, which leaves drivers responsible for employer and employee taxes and expenses. That also exempts the parent companies from providing benefits and many other standard workplace protections.

Uber and Lyft previously sent letters to Walz asking him to veto the legislation, claiming that fares for riders would “double” should the bill become law.

“This bill would destroy rideshare for the majority of Minnesotans, especially those from low-income communities who use the service to get to work, to medical appointments or simply to get home safe late at night,” Lyft said in a prepared statement. “Ride fares would more than double, meaning only the most wealthy could still afford one.

“Instead of signing this deeply flawed legislation that was rushed through the process without stakeholder involvement, we ask that Gov. Walz veto the bill and create a task force to properly study the best way to protect drivers while still safeguarding the affordability of the service.”

Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...