A group of current and former Uber black car drivers gathered outside the startup’s San Francisco headquarters to protest what they said was unfair treatment by the company. When I arrived at around 5:45pm, a group of 30 or so were chanting, “No respect, no Uber!” every time someone left the building.
The person leading the chants, Rajab Alazzeh of SF Best Limo, had apparently been asked by the other drivers to serve as an unofficial spokesman, and he rattled off a number of demands. He said that Uber needs to lower the company’s payment cut from 20 percent to 10 percent, to designate a specific portion of the payment as a tip that’s paid directly to drivers, to offer health insurance (which Alazzeh said had been promised), to make the drivers into full employees with W2 paperwork, and to stop bringing on “unlicensed, illegal, unsafe operators” who don’t have TCP certificates and permits. (Note that CEO Travis Kalanick disputes a number of Allazeh’s complaints — see the update below. Also worth noting is the fact that the California Public Utilities Commission cleared Uber to work with non-commercial drivers.)
One of the big grievances was the fact that drivers have been dismissed for low ratings. Alazzeh said that Uber always takes the side of the passenger in these situations, even if the passenger was drunk and the driver was sober. He added that Uber doesn’t want to make the drivers employees, yet it essentially has the power to hire and fire them. Another driver, Karim Harcha of Actor Limousine Services, complained that Uber cut all three of his cars from the service four days ago because of user ratings.
In the past, I’ve heard Uber drivers grumble about the launch of the more affordable service UberX, which black car drivers said had hurt their business. I asked Alazzeh if that was also one of his grievances, and he answered, “We have no input. They call us partners, but that’s just in word.”
I also asked why they decided to hold their demonstration now, and Alazzeh said it was because 500 drivers were dismissed in February.
“But the treatment has been going on for more than a year,” he added. “They treat us like slaves. We helped them build this business here in San Francisco, and this is the payment they show us.”
Alazzeh also said that this was a nationwide demonstration, with drivers protesting in other cities including New York and Philadelphia, but that the biggest concentration was in SF, since this was the main office. In San Francisco at least, most of the drivers had dispersed by about 6:45pm.
I’ve emailed Uber to ask about Alazzeh’s statements and will update if I hear back.
Update: CEO Travis Kalanick said that the three demonstrator statements I asked about (the promise of health care, the 500 drivers dismissed, and the demonstrations in multiple cities) “are all patently false, not even close to true, literally more than an order of magnitude off on the numbers and there were no other demonstrations in any other cities.” And in a conversation with TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler, he characterized it as a demonstration mostly by drivers whose accounts had been deactivated.
Uber’s San Francisco general manager Ilya Abyzov also sent me this statement:
Uber is 100 percent committed to working with only the highest quality transportation providers, thousands of whom are using Uber to grow their businesses and provide quick and reliable service to San Franciscans. Drivers who don’t know the city well or who are unsafe or unprofessional ultimately receive consistently negative feedback from riders that we cannot ignore.