The UK’s App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) staged a 24-hour strike Wednesday to demand Uber be held accountable for the findings of the Uber files, a trove of thousands of leaked confidential documents that show how the ride-hail company broke laws, secretly lobbied governments and exploited driver safety to expand aggressively from 2013 to 2017.
The ADCU asked drivers not to open the app on Wednesday and asked passengers to not use the service. The union also held a public demonstration at Uber UK’s head office at Aldgate Towers in London between 12pm and 2pm on Wednesday. The ADCU said there was “good observance” of the picket line.
The union is demanding that Uber immediately obey the UK’s Supreme Court ruling on worker rights in full, which last year re-classified Uber drivers as workers. The judges ruled that Uber should enter into a direct contract with passengers when providing car journeys to assume a greater share of the responsibility for each trip.
Furthermore, the ADCU demands that Uber pay its drivers back pay owed as a result of the court ruling; end “unethical political influencing in the UK,” and dismiss executive board member Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, a “convicted criminal in France, whose conduct which endangered drivers and passengers was exposed in the Uber files,” according to a statement from the union.
“Uber is desperate to whitewash away the Uber files revelations as sins of the distant past, but management behaviour is as egregious now as ever it was,” said Yaseen Aslam, ADCU president, in a statement. “Uber continues to defy the Supreme Court ruling to deny drivers their full rights to minimum wage and holiday pay for all working time. In making partial settlement in the wake of the landmark ruling, Uber took advantage of vulnerable drivers, already impoverished by the pandemic, to pressure them to settle for far less than what was really owed and to surrender their statutory rights.”
Uber did make some changes to the way it treats drivers in the UK after the Supreme Court ruling. In a regulatory filing, Uber said drivers would be paid holiday time, automatically enrolled into a pension plan and will earn at least the minimum wage as an earnings floor.
However, ADCU says these moves fall short of the Supreme Court and lower court rulings to pay drivers at least the minimum wage after costs for all working time from log on to log off. Instead, Uber only counts the hours and minutes between dispatch and drop off, excluding waiting time, which the union says leaves drivers short-changed of about 40% of their true working time.
In addition to ensuring drivers are paid during down time, the union demands that Uber increase fares to £2.50 per mile and 20p per minute and that Uber’s commission be capped at 15%, rather than the current 25%.
The Uber files also brought to light the ride-hail giant’s political influence. For example, back when French President Emmanuel Macron was an economy minister, he was on a first name basis with ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and appears to have helped change policy in Uber’s favor.
The ADCU said it was concerned about Uber’s targeting of Labour party MPs like Rachel Reeves and Yvette Cooper. The union claims Uber executives participated in Labour party conference events last year, and Uber recently hired Princess Bright, a Labour party councillor. Aside from demanding that Uber end all “corrupt political influencing,” the union also asks that politicians commit to zero influence contact with Uber until the company can demonstrate that it’s on its best behavior.
The Uber files also show Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, who is now in charge of Uber Eats, exchanging text messages with other executives about Uber’s “kill switch.” The kill switch was usually engaged when law enforcement came knocking, and would allow Uber to restrict officers’ access to sensitive company data. This was part of Gore-Coty’s reported “playbook to fight enforcement.”
The union argues that by employing a senior staffer who was involved in activity designed to thwart regulatory oversight in the UK or any other jurisdiction, Uber is in breach of a 2018 license condition.
Among these demands, James Farrar, ADCU general secretary and former Uber driver, also called on the whistleblower, former Uber lobbyist Mark McCann, to provide direct testimony on what went on inside the company.
Uber posits that it has been ensuring drivers earn a living wage after expenses, as well as holiday pay, which is given out weekly as cash, and pension contributions. This has been going on since May 2021, and ever since then, eligible drivers have received over £100 million in pension contributions and £185.5 million in holiday pay from Uber, according to a company spokesperson.
“With demand up following the pandemic, Uber drivers are earning more than ever – in the first quarter of 2022, they earned on average £29.72ph, including holiday pay, when actively engaged on the app,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The combination of higher earnings, new protections such as holiday pay and a pension and trade union recognition in the UK has led to more than 10,000 new drivers signing up with Uber in recent months.”
The strike lasted from midnight to midnight. It’s not clear how many drivers and passengers took part.
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