Ride-hail, delivery app drivers need better job safety

ByLance T. Lee

Aug 18, 2022

Imagine that you are driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood. You see a dark figure in the distance. Driving to the curb, you realize he is your passenger. And he has a gun.

It’s a nightmare scenario for any application worker. I drove for Uber in Chicago for six years, and these worries keep coming up all day. I worked long hours to keep our communities running during the pandemic, driving people to hospitals and making food deliveries. But COVID-19 has brought another epidemic: alarming rates of carjackings and assaults on rideshare drivers. Violence threatens our livelihoods and frightens passengers.

That’s why Illinois drivers and delivery people are coming together to fight app companies for the protections and rights we need.

When I take the wheel, a target is on my back. Uber drivers have suffered more than 24,000 reported assaults or threats of assault, with little or no recourse. Last year, 44 Chicago taxi drivers were carjacked, more than any other city in the United States and accounting for more than a third of all driver carjacking reports nationwide.

Some workers lose their car or wallet in an attack or are injured. Others can’t, like Javier Ramos and Joe Schelstraet, both shot down at work. Dozens more have been victims this summer, many of them in broad daylight. Now people are installing dash cams or driving only at O’Hare and Midway airports. Many drivers give up out of fear.

I love my job and want to stay on the road, but I’m in a tough spot. My safety depends on the application, which tells me who to take and where to go. Passengers can use false names and attack drivers anonymously. Gasoline prices are also hitting motorists hard. Apps added a $0.55 fuel surcharge this spring, but the program was halted in June, just as we saw record gasoline prices statewide.

These days, I drive 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, but pay more for groceries and rent. If I have an emergency or need a car repair, I don’t have the money for it. Finding clean public restrooms, especially at airports, also seems impossible. I can’t afford to refuse trips because my account could be deactivated. In Chicago, if you get started from one app, you get banned from all of them.

Chicagoland Transportation and Delivery Service workers agree that we shouldn’t have to choose between safe working conditions, good pay and flexible hours. So 20,000 of us are launching a campaign demanding that app companies expand security features to put workers first. Changes such as additional account verifications, customer tracking, and tougher penalties for perpetrators would help us all feel safer. We are also demanding higher wages, access to sanitary public toilets and the right to bargain collectively. Our coalition joins the thousands of New York enforcement workers who united earlier this year.

Some might say that app companies are already doing their part to keep drivers safe, but that’s not true. Uber and Lyft have in-app safety features, but most focus on passenger safety, not drivers. Enforcement workers can call 911 through the app, but that’s an ice-breaking tactic, not a way to keep unsafe customers from getting into our cars or making a delivery. If this crisis is not resolved, more drivers will leave the industry or refuse to travel to certain areas. Riders will see fewer rides available and prices rising around the clock. And it’s not about the money: Lyft just posted its highest-ever quarterly profit.

Hard-working people built Chicago – and hard-working people like taxi drivers and delivery people make Chicago thrive. I can’t count the times a passenger has told me they waved at a ride because they didn’t want to ride the el alone or had to leave a bad situation. But amid a spike in carjackings and assaults, delivery workers and drivers also deserve to get home safely.

If you’re a driver, delivery person, or want to help fight for safer working conditions in Chicago, join our campaign. Visit JusticeForAppWorkers.org to learn more.

Manny Leyva is a full-time driver for Uber and a member of Latinos Unidos Uber y Lyft and Justice for App Workers Illinois. He lives in Stickney.

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