Uber drivers to strike ahead of the company's $90 billion IPO

Drivers argue the road to both companies’ IPOs has been paved by workers who Uber and Lyft have insisted for years are merely contractors.
Striking Uber and Lyft drivers protest Uber's decision to cut per-mile pay from 80 cents to 60 cents, outside the Uber Hub in Redondo Beach
Striking Uber and Lyft drivers protest Uber's decision to cut per-mile pay from 80 cents to 60 cents, outside the Uber Hub in Redondo Beach, Californiaon March 25, 2019.Lucy Nicholson / Reuters file

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/ Source: CNBC.com
By Lauren Feiner, CNBC

Uber and Lyft drivers are planning to turn off their apps Wednesday to protest low wages, denial of full employee benefits and other complaints.

The strike comes just two days ahead of Uber’s initial public offering, which is expected to be the largest among new tech stock debuts this year, with an expected valuation of $80.53 billion to $91.51 billion on a fully diluted basis.

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Drivers for the ride-hailing companies argue the road to both companies’ IPOs has been paved by workers who Uber and Lyft have insisted for years are merely contractors. The debate is now reaching a boiling point as founders from both companies are set to get rich while drivers say they still aren’t paid enough and are being denied access to full employee benefits.

In New York City, drivers plan to strike for two hours during the morning rush hour to demand job security, livable wages and a guaranteed commission rate, according to a release from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. In other U.S. cities, such as Los Angeles, strikes are planned to last a full 24 hours, according to Rideshare Drivers United. Protests are reportedly expected in at least eight U.S. cities in total, including Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia.

Uber and Lyft did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the protests or workers’ allegations of unfair pay standards.

Uber and Lyft both acknowledged in their IPO prospectuses that reclassifying its drivers as employees would negatively impact their businesses. That might be part of the reason both companies have included rewards for drivers who have played the most active role in building up their services as part of their IPOs. Drivers for either company who have completed 20,000 rides by a certain date earlier this year are eligible for a $10,000 bonus from Uber or Lyft. Other amounts are available to drivers at different tiers of activity.

So far, the services have not had to reclassify their workers despite threats from politicians and lawsuits. In 2018, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nullified a decision in a lower court where Uber drivers had argued they should be deemed employees, saying a class action suit could not be brought due to Uber’s arbitration clause, The Verge reported.

But the companies have still had to deal with costly legal battles. Earlier this year, Uber agreed to pay $20 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by its drivers that claimed Uber dodged requirements to provide benefits and a minimum wage by classifying drivers as contractors, TechCrunch reported.

While Uber and Lyft are both dependent on drivers to fuel their core businesses, many analysts believe they are also their greatest burden. Both companies are working toward a future where drivers are a much smaller part of the picture for their businesses, relying instead of self-driving vehicles. Without drivers, both services would get to keep more of the revenue from each ride.