Transportation

Drivers' Union Staged Strike at DIA the Saturday After Thanksgiving

Colorado rideshare drivers gathered November 26 to protest at Denver International Airport.
Colorado rideshare drivers gathered November 26 to protest at Denver International Airport. Colorado Independent Drivers United
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, a coalition of Colorado’s rideshare drivers gathered at Denver International Airport's commercial lot — not to pick up customers, but to show companies such as Uber and Lyft that their union can pack a punch.

Members of Colorado Independent Drivers United, an emerging union for rideshare, delivery, pedicab, taxi and limousine drivers, organized the four-hour strike, picking that Saturday because it's usually a busy one for rides, with people returning home from their holiday destinations. Drivers turned off their apps from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Members of the union have three main asks: that rideshare companies stop random and discriminatory deactivations of drivers without explanation or appeals, and take a maximum of 25 percent of the profits from each trip; and that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission actively pursue enforcement of the 2014 Transportation Network Companies Act, which requires app companies to be transparent with drivers about how fares are calculated and what they will get paid for each job.

Steve Lustig, one of the strike organizers, is a perpetual gig worker. Although driving hasn’t always been his only source of income, it was his primary source in 2020 and 2021, and it was "helpful in many ways," he says. "I just don't appreciate that they take advantage of drivers, too. I thought that was something that absolutely needs to be rectified.”

According to Uber, it takes an average of 19.2 percent of the profit on rides. But Lustig says that Uber and Lyft have been taking more profit as the years go by, with 40 to 75 percent of the money a customer pays on his rides now going to the company rather than to him.

Hamouda Ahmed, who has been driving for five and a half years, says that companies taking more profit contributes to higher rates for customers, even as drivers make no more money than they did five years ago, sometimes even less.

In 2021, Lyft reported revenues of $3.2 billion and Uber of $17.5 billion

Uber blames high charges for customers in Colorado on a new state law sponsored by Representative Steven Woodrow and Senator Faith Winter that requires rideshare companies to have at least $200,000 in uninsured motorist coverage per person and $400,000 per accident.

Uber says that the company is up front with drivers, and that drivers in Colorado make some of the highest rates in the country, at $37 an hour; according to Lyft, drivers in the U.S. make an average of $35 after tips and bonuses.

But CIDU and workers'-rights group Colorado Jobs With Justice found that drivers took home just $5.49 an hour after expenses in a study of nearly 400 drivers.

Though Ahmed has been able to make ends meet with what he earns by driving, he feels he’s always in a precarious position, unable to save money for an emergency after he pays his rent, his gas, his car maintenance and his groceries. “Taxis have the union, but I'm working for Uber and Lyft,” he says. “I don't have the union. I don't have a lawyer. I don't have the power, so it’s big problem.”

Hoping that banding together with other drivers would get him power, he joined CIDU this fall and helped organize the November 26 action.
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Colorado rideshare drivers want better conditions.
Colorado Independent Drivers United
Lustig estimates that at least 250 drivers participated in the strike, and says that CIDU gained some new members as drivers came into the commercial lot and noticed the gathering. The organizers had been passing out fliers at the airport for a week before the strike, and Lustig even went out on Thanksgiving morning.

The airport’s commercial lot is one of the only communal gathering places in the state for drivers, who are usually isolated in their cars. If they take a passenger to the airport, though, they usually end up in the commercial lot waiting for a ride from the airport.

“Particularly Uber will require that you go to the lot first and then wait in line to take a passenger from the airport,” Lustig explains. That can cause long wait times for drivers, and often they'll have coffee, use the facilities and chat with each other. Sometimes they give up and search for passengers in Green Valley Ranch.

On Saturday, they swapped stories about their struggles. “We had so much great turnout and drivers that were standing with us,” Lustig says. “It was a fantastic experience, and I can't wait to keep it going in the new year, because this is just something that we're snowballing right now. We're a scrappy, underdog union and we start small, guerrilla style, but we keep on building. And then the next event that we do, we build upon that, and we just keep on doing that.”

Although Uber will not share how many drivers are signed up with the company to drive in Colorado, it says that it did not see an impact on service at the airport during the strike.

But Ahmed was impressed by the impact. "I feel happy, like flying," he says.

This story has been updated to include information from Lyft.
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire

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