App-based drivers strike at LaGuardia Airport for increased wages

Mia Gindis, Opinions Editor

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance held a strike at LaGuardia Airport to demand that Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. raise wages for the app’s for-hire drivers.

Drivers for Uber and Lyft denied pick-up requests at the airport from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Feb. 26. They also held picket lines to block the area for other vehicles.

“We are not here only to drive,” one driver — whose identity was withheld for privacy concerns — told CBS News during the strike. “We are here to protect our livelihood. We are here to protect our living.”

This marked the third month of an ongoing struggle between the ride-hailing companies and the drivers since a lawsuit barred the latter from receiving a wage hike that was set to take effect December 2022.

Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the NYTWA, announced a countdown to the strike a week prior to the rally.

The alliance consists of 21,000 members, including taxi cab drivers, black-car service drivers and app-dispatched drivers.

“It’s a targeted strike to send a message to Uber Technologies and a message to Lyft that the drivers will not be exploited,” Desai told the crowd. “The drivers are sick and tired of low wages.”

The Taxi and Limousine Commission had originally approved a per-minute increase of 7.8% slated to go into effect Dec. 19.

Uber sued the commission after calling the proposed increase as “dramatic, unprecedented and unsupported.”

A judge issued a temporary restraining order, effectively halting the pay hike and costing workers’ thousands of dollars in potential earnings.

“Drivers are sounding the alarm after Uber sued to stop raises despite making record profits and a UCLA report showed that the company is taking a larger cut of passenger fares,” the NYTWA wrote in an announcement of the planned strike. “At the same time, drivers are scraping by sometimes having to choose between food and fuel so they can keep working.”

In contrast to the drivers struggling financially, Uber and Lyft are celebrating some of their most lucrative quarters to date.

Lyft generated $1.2 billion in revenue during the final quarter of 2022, the highest revenue in company history, according to Chief Financial Officer Elaine Paul.

Uber also ended 2022 with its strongest quarter ever, with revenue increasing by 49% from the same time last year to $8.6 billion. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi attributed the growth to “robust demand and record margins.”

NYTWA cited a report from the University of California Los Angeles that indicates there may have been other factors at play that contributed to the high earnings.

The study analyzed approximately 50 million Uber and Lyft trips in New York City to find that the percentage of passenger fares pocketed by the ride-hailing companies has been steadily increasing over the years.

Uber and Lyft took at least 30% more in commissions from rides in 2022 than rides in 2019. The companies earned their highest average commission of 21.4% at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, when drivers were vulnerable to catching the virus.

Additionally, passenger fares increased disproportionately with driver pay. Median driver earnings increased by 31%, compared to an average increase of 50% per passenger fare.

In December 2022, protesters drove over the Brooklyn Bridge in a convoy that ended with a picket line at Foley Square. The picket line rematerialized in front of Uber’s Manhattan offices at 75 Greenwich St. on Jan. 5.

“This is the only industry in the state with a yearly required increase tied to the rate of inflation, while minimum wage workers have not had one raise since 2018,” a spokesperson for Uber told NBC News.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission held another hearing on increasing rideshare payments rates March 1.