Uber drivers in Britain started a day of transatlantic strikes to protest at the disparity between gig-economy conditions and the sums investors are likely to make in tomorrow’s blockbuster stock market debut.
Drivers and regulators around the world have long-criticised the business tactics of Uber Technologies, and the expected, $90bn (€80bn) valuation in an IPO on Friday is proving to be the latest flashpoint.
Unions in Britain said there was good support for the strike, with drivers staying at home and passengers using the #UberShutDown hashtag to pledge solidarity on social media.
The Uber app said fares were higher in London during a rainy morning rush hour, due to increased demand.
“Stand with these workers on strike today, across the UK and the world,” said Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party.
Drivers in London and the cities of Birmingham, Nottingham, and Glasgow were due to log off the app, followed by counterparts in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and several other major cities.
Uber has three million drivers globally, and it is not clear if the action can significantly slow service, although organisers have received widespread publicity.
Chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, hired to help move the company past a series of scandals and manage the IPO, has promised to treat drivers better.
Uber is paying more than one million drivers about $300m in one-time bonuses, for instance, and has changed policies, such as allowing riders to tip.
Uber has beaten attempts to compel it to treat drivers as employees, arguing that its main business is a platform that brings riders and drivers together. And the money-losing company is under pressure to cut costs.
“It is the drivers who have created this extraordinary wealth, but they continue to be denied even the most basic workplace rights,” said James Farrar, chair of Britain’s United Private Hire Drivers, calling for a “digital picket line”.
Many drivers want better pay from Uber rival, Lyft, as well.
The company and its critics are divided over how much drivers can make. Classified as independent contractors, they lack paid sick and vacation days and must pay their own expenses, such as car maintenance and fuel.
Uber noted that a recent study, whose authors included current and former Uber employees, showed driver gross earnings averaged $21 an hour, while a study by Washington think tank, Economic Policy Institute, calculated that, after all costs, Uber drivers earned $9.21 in hourly wages.