The Potluck

Uber and Lyft drivers group schisms as Minnesota governor’s task force weighs regulations

By: - October 17, 2023 5:40 pm

Uber and Lyft drivers interrupted a meeting of the governor’s task force on driver compensation and well-being on Oct. 17, 2023 and said the committee’s driver members no longer represent them. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

A meeting of the governor’s task force in charge of proposing regulations and minimum wages for Uber and Lyft drivers was interrupted Tuesday by drivers shouting their frustrations, alleging other drivers on the task force no longer represent them.

“He is not representing us… Can we have a chance to talk please?” one driver shouted, but the task force plowed forward through multiple interruptions, discussing insurance deductibles and policies on rider service animals.

The frustration boiled over after drivers say they learned Eid Ali, president of the nascent but influential worker group Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association, failed to negotiate with Uber and Lyft or tell drivers about a deal that could have won the governor’s support and brought them bigger paychecks by now.

“He never negotiated and never shared (information) with drivers. He was always acting by himself,” said Mohamed Egal, who said he is the vice president of MULDA.

Ali said he never appointed Egal as vice president of MULDA.

MULDA has until now shown a united front, turning out hundreds of drivers to march through the halls of the state Capitol and Minneapolis City Hall to demand higher wages and protections against unfair termination, or deactivation.

The group of largely East African immigrants successfully pressured state lawmakers to pass a bill guaranteeing them higher wages and protections against deactivation, even after Uber threatened to pull out of the state if the bill became law.

After the governor vetoed the bill — his first veto — and created a task force to propose legislation next year, the group’s president and two of its members were appointed to the three seats dedicated to drivers. The other two driver representatives are Marianna Brown and Dawit Kassa.

The group also successfully won passage of a similar proposal by the Minneapolis City Council, even after Lyft threatened to leave the city and Uber said it would curtail service.

Under the ordinance, which never became law because it was vetoed by Mayor Jacob Frey, drivers would have earned at least $1.40 per mile and 51 cents per minute, which would increase with inflation. Lyft, in a letter to the council, said fares could double under the ordinance and lead demand to plummet.

Frey’s veto dealt a second major setback to drivers that left them frustrated that their political activism has yielded no tangible results for more than a year.

Disgruntled drivers at the task force meeting say they would have accepted a lower minimum wage if Ali had been able to negotiate a rate acceptable to the companies and the governor.

A second group of drivers — called the Minnesota Rideshare Drivers Association (MNRDA) — separated from MULDA last year to negotiate such a deal. Under their proposal, Uber would have raised minimum rates to $1.15 a mile and 25 cents per minute. (Lyft did not negotiate a deal with MNRDA.)

The proposal was ultimately rejected by the bill’s lead authors — Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis — who pursued much higher rates and rules governing deactivations and insurance that the companies said were unworkable.

“Drivers cannot wait that long. They were suffering. One of the reasons they think that our bill was vetoed by the governor was lack of negotiation,” Egal said.

Ali said he was ready to negotiate with Uber and Lyft but never got the opportunity.

Uber lobbyist Freddi Goldstein said she reached out to Ali before the legislative session, but he did not meet with her. She said she also received no response from Fateh, who told drivers the governor had committed to signing his bill. Walz said he made no such commitment, and his office said he did not meet with Ali before he vetoed the bill.

Fateh was also appointed to the task force but withdrew before it started meeting, and he has not been replaced. House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, has participated on the task force as a representative of the House.

Egal said they want Ali to step down or else “change completely.”

Some drivers accused Ali of not even being an Uber or Lyft driver. They formed a third group — the Uber & Lyft Drivers Community Alliance (ULDCA) — and now want a seat at the table.

“We the drivers, we don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, and we should be part of this conversation,” said Abdi Liban, the leader of ULDCA.

Ali hasn’t lost all of his support, however. Driver Muhiyadin Yusuf said Ali is a driver and is still their “real president.”

“We trust him,” Yusuf said.

*This story has been updated with comment from Ali.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, 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.