Several hundred New York City-based Uber drivers are collectively striking against the car-sharing startup today, according to fliers distributed to riders over the past few days and a Facebook event page administered by a driver named Farrukh Khamdamov. According to that page’s description, the strike (and an accompanying demonstration at Uber’s Long Island City headquarters) are intended to protest the company’s recent decision to slash ride fares in the New York area by fifteen percent:
Stop being a slave, boycott new UBER price cut! Demand uber fee cut! Tell your friends, we are organizing strike to return respect and power to drivers! Join us on UBER STRIKE coming MONDAY (FEBRUARY 1ST) - ... PRESS ATTEND AND INVITE YOUR FRIENDS! DON’T BE THE GREEDY ONE AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OTHERS NOT WORKING! WE ARE POWERFUL WHEN WE ARE UNITED!!!
Nearly 800 people plan to participate in the strike or protest, according to the same page’s guest list. If that number is accurate, Uber is facing a significant, if not fatal, decrease in the number of available drivers. Last March, the City of New York revealed that a little over 14,000 Uber vehicles were registered with the city (a large number of which are operated by part-time drivers).
Existing labor laws allow Uber to classify all of its drivers as contractors (who can be fired at any time, for any reason), so the risks of striking are particularly acute for the drivers participating in today’s demonstration. And, as the writer and web developer Cody Brown pointed out today, the company’s controversial “surge pricing” feature gives drivers who are ambivalent about the strike a financial incentive to keep driving: “A successful Uber strike is is an opportunity for other drivers to cash in on a surge.”
As of early Monday afternoon, it’s unclear whether the strike has meaningfully lowered the supply of available cars in New York City. In Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood, for example, Uber’s iPhone app currently indicates that at least four cars are available to pick up riders (with no surge pricing). But the protest in Long Island City appears to be well underway:
In a statement emailed to Gawker, a Uber spokesperson wrote:
Every city has has busy months and slow times. In New York things tend to be quieter after the holidays. So we lowered prices to get more people using Uber, which is good for drivers because it means less time waiting around for trips. Since the price cut drivers have spent spent 39% less time between trips which has increased average hourly earnings by 20% compared to two weekends before. This is similar to what happened last time we cut prices. As we have always said price cuts need to work for drivers. if for any reason they are not, we will roll them back as we have done in other cities before.
As you can see on the aforementioned Facebook page, however, many Uber drivers aren’t buying the company’s reasoning. A flier created by one features a logo suggesting Uber be banned and the headline “UBER is a rip-off for its Drivers!!!” above a chart explaining the recent price changes.
Today’s strike comes one day before government officials in Paris will meet to address ongoing anti-Uber demonstrations carried out by local taxi drivers in the French capital. Those demonstrations recently turned violent when Parisian police aimed tear gas canisters at a group of taxi drivers who had lit bonfires on a major freeway in hopes of interrupting traffic.