The Potluck

Minneapolis city council to consider new labor protections for Uber and Lyft drivers

By: - January 12, 2023 12:58 pm

Minneapolis Council Member Robin Wonsley speaks at a rally of Uber and Lyft drivers in City Hall on Jan. 12, 2023, to announce she plans to develop new labor protections for drivers. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Three Minneapolis City Council members announced on Thursday they plan to propose new labor protections for Uber and Lyft drivers, who have long complained of low wages, unsafe working conditions and a lack of legal protections for independent contractors.

Uber and Lyft drivers say the tech giants continue to claim the lion’s share of every fare, even as they bear the burden paying for gas, cars and insurance. Drivers also complain of a lack of transparency and predictability on pay and discipline.

“Multibillion dollar corporations will always see workers as expendable,” said Council Member Robin Wonsley during a rally in City Hall with more than three dozen Uber and Lyft drivers. “Minneapolis council members are fighting back on behalf of our workers.”

The drive for stricter regulations is being led by a new grassroots organization of ride app drivers, who are also pushing for new laws at the state Capitol.

“We are asking what we deserve. We are asking (for) a fair shake,” said Eid Ali, president of the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Driver Association.

Wonsley — along with Council Members Jason Chavez and Jamal Osman — gave notice to the council on Thursday that they plan to introduce an ordinance that would set minimum wages for ride app drivers and increase worker safety protections. The council members did not have specifics to share on what an ordinance would include.

Council Member Andrew Johnson said he is also working with city staff on a proposal to apply the same regulations of taxi cab companies to ride app companies.

Democratic state lawmakers have also pledged to introduce legislation this year to give greater worker protections to Uber and Lyft drivers, which could include creating a more stringent definition of who can be classified as an independent contractor.

Uber, Lyft and other companies that rely on so-called gig workers classify their workers as “independent contractors” rather than employees, which exempts them from having to pay a minimum wage, overtime, Social Security, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation.

A spokesman for Uber said the company believes it can work with drivers and local elected officials “to deliver a package of benefits that improve the driver experience while maintaining flexibility.”

A spokeswoman for Lyft said the company would “welcome an opportunity to engage with policymakers in Minnesota regarding policies to maintain the flexibility and independence drivers want while providing new benefits.”

Few cities have taken on the two tech giants, despite their explosive growth over the past decade, which has decimated the highly regulated taxi cab industry. New York City was the first major American city in 2018 to establish minimum pay for Uber and Lyft drivers, following a study showing about 40% of drivers have incomes low enough to qualify for Medicaid, federal-state health insurance program for the indigent and people with disabilities.

In 2022, Washington state passed a law requiring Uber and Lyft to provide workers with a minimum wage, paid sick leave and access to a third-party appeals process for deactivation. The Lyft spokeswoman noted the company supported that legislation.

In California, gig workers are currently caught in political crosscurrents. The California Assembly passed a law in 2019 that made Uber and Lyft drivers employees — not “independent contractors” — but it was reversed by voters the next year through a ballot initiative that Uber, Lyft and other companies spent $200 million supporting. That law is currently tied up in a contentious legal battle.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.

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