Uber & Lyft Drivers Are Making $6.20 an Hour Under New California Law

Moscow, Russia: Yellow taxi with Uber logo on the street. Yellow taxi cab with checker pattern. Uber taxi cab. stock photo
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A California law designed to improve working conditions for rideshare drivers while also keeping fees down might have done the latter without doing the former, according to a new study from PolicyLink. Among other things, the study found that local Uber and Lyft drivers make a median net wage of $6.20 an hour — well below California’s minimum wage of $15 an hour.

The study, released on Sept. 21, was the result of a collaboration between PolicyLink — a progressive research and advocacy organization — and Rideshare Drivers United, a California driver advocacy group. Much of the research was done by PolicyLink partner National Equity Atlas, which published the results on its website.

The law in question is Proposition 22, which was approved by voters in 2020. According to National Equity Atlas, Prop 22 allowed rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft to legally classify their drivers as independent contractors not subject to basic employment protections. This was the case even though drivers cannot set their own fares, or other working conditions traditionally part of independent contractors’ rights.

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“In effect, Prop 22 rewrote labor law for California’s entire app-based transportation and delivery workforce,” National Equity Atlas wrote.

To better understand the impact of Prop 22 on driver compensation, National Equity Atlas partnered with Rideshare Drivers United — and 55 rideshare drivers in California’s major rideshare markets — to collect and analyze driver data late last year, using the Driver’s Seat Cooperative mobile app.

The partnership assessed how compensation under Prop 22 compares with what compensation would be if the drivers were classified as employees. It also conducted interviews with a subset of drivers to better understand their working conditions under Prop 22, the challenges they face because of the pay and benefits structure — and the extent to which they feel they have control over their work.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Drivers’ median net take-home earnings, which take out business costs such as vehicle wear and tear, are $6.20 per hour under Prop 22. Drivers who pay for health insurance out of pocket earn nearly half of that.
  • The wage floor under Prop 22 is $4.10 per hour.
  • Drivers would earn nearly $11 more per hour if they were classified as employees.
  • Rideshare work has become less flexible and more controlled by rideshare companies under Prop 22.

Those results won’t come as a surprise to rideshare drivers. Vitali Konstantinov, who started driving for rideshare companies in the San Diego area in 2018 and is a member of Rideshare Drivers United, told Wired that driving “has only gotten more difficult” since Proposition 22 passed.

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“Although we are called independent contractors, we have no ability to negotiate our contracts, and the companies can change our terms at any time,” Konstantinov said. “We need labor rights extended to app-deployed workers.”

In response, Uber spokesperson Zahid Arab wrote in a statement that the study was “deeply flawed,” adding that his company’s internal data shows that tens of thousands of California drivers earned $30 per hour on the dates studied by the research team. However, Uber’s figure does not account for driver expenses.

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Per Wired, Lyft spokesperson Shadawn Reddick-Smith called the report “untethered to the experience of drivers in California.”

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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