Impact of Uber, Lyft driver strike unclear

Uber, preparing for IPO, sees little change in Boston

UBER AND LYFT drivers and their supporters did a good job getting the word out to the public about a strike and boycott on Wednesday, but it’s an open question what effect, if any, it had on the businesses.

Uber, which along with Lyft dominates the local ride-hailing market, said it has not seen any significant impact on the service’s reliability or the number of drivers online compared to the monthly average. A spokesperson for Lyft didn’t provide on-record answers to questions about whether the strike affected business.

Ridership on the MBTA on Wednesday was also that of an average weekday, according to a T spokesman, which suggests there wasn’t a mass of people crowding onto buses and trains as an alternative to ride-hailing. A Boston 25 reporter who spent the day at Logan Airport told viewers that she had to inform some drivers about the strike, because “they didn’t even know this was going on today.”

Felipe Martinez, a former antique store owner who is now a ride-hailing driver and on the board of the fledgling Boston Independent Drivers Guild association, thinks Wednesday’s work stoppage did have an effect, but he doesn’t have access to the data necessary to make that determination.

“I personally think there was a disruption. That’s my personal opinion,” Martinez said during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “I looked at the app and I saw a lot of hot zones that weren’t hot before, so I believe that it was a success.”

The strike in Boston is part of a multi-city, worldwide effort timed to coincide with Uber’s push to sell stock to the public later this week. The goal of the strike is to push for higher pay for drivers, and organizers encouraged both drivers and passengers to avoid the ride-hailing services.

The drivers’ guild has about 250 members, according to Martinez, who said he wants it to grow it into a true force. At some point, the members could seek representation by a union, he said.

“What I want is relevance. I just want to be treated fairly. I don’t want my pay to be lowered,” Martinez said.

There is a big pool of workers who drive for the apps. Last year, state regulators cleared 190,000 drivers, according to the Eagle-Tribune.

Martinez said he prefers to be his own boss and he has never been a union member.

“I don’t know what I’m doing. I haven’t organized anything,” Martinez said. “I’m just a regular run-of-the-mill Uber and Lyft driver who’s been inspired by the stories of other drivers. We’ve been doing this since July.”

From a public relations standpoint, the strike had success, because it garnered coverage of drivers’ complaints and financial situations and support from prominent figures. Several prominent Democrats who are running for president publicly voiced support for the action.

Both Uber and Lyft issued statements Wednesday about how they treat the gig economy workers. Lyft claimed that hourly earnings for Lyft drivers rose 7 percent over the last two years and the average driver earns $20 per hour. An Uber spokesperson said the company values the drivers and will “continue working to improve drivers’ experience for and with them, every day.”

While they have attracted strong interest from investors, Uber and Lyft have not yet become profitable.

Earlier this year, Stop & Shop employees put a big dent in the grocery chain’s bottom line and attracted the support of presidential candidates US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Those who drive for Uber and Lyft are not employees of the tech companies, and they are not unionized like Stop & Shop workers, who are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers. The AFL-CIO, which is an umbrella labor group, backed the action by ride-hailing app drivers.

“This isn’t a one-time show. We’re going to keep doing this,” Martinez said.