Portland’s Uber and Lyft drivers aren’t all for sale due to minimum wage referendum

Cathy Goodwin, a 63-year-old Uber driver in Turner, waited for passengers at Portland International Airport last week. Sofia Ardinho/Staff photographer

Cathy Goodwin has been an Uber driver for about five years. She enjoys flexible hours and chatting with clients. She makes a lot of money. But the job is not easy.

Goodwin spends a lot of time in the car, commuting from Turner to Portland, where there is more demand. She has driven 9,000 miles in a six-week-old car.

“I’ve been outside most of my life,” she said during a recent afternoon break at Portland International Jetport, a pickup point for many of the rides. “A lot of time invested.”

The 63-year-old is one of hundreds of drivers for app-based delivery and ride-hailing services in Portland. “Gig economy” jobs as freelancers or independent contractors for companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash are rapidly gaining popularity in the United States.

With this growth, people began to debate the treatment of workers. Labour activists have pushed for better pay and benefits. The company says employees like to work when and how much they want.

The debate is now focus and center in Portland, as a proposal would raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour by 2025 for all workers, including drivers for ride-hailing, taxi and delivery services. It would also eliminate tip wage credits that allow tipped workers to earn less than the minimum wage, a proposal many restaurant workers have spoken out against.

Issue D, one of the most contentious referendums voters will consider on Nov. 8, attracted the bulk of PAC spending. Uber has invested more than $100,000 against the proposal, including nearly $31,000 in joint spending for Portland workers, a committee Uber began battling with issue D. DoorDash has spent $75,000.

Hillary Clinton, however, backed the proposal this week in a new ad from One Fair Wage, a group that supports Issue D.

“Raising the minimum wage to $18 an hour would raise the wages of 20,000 hard-working people in Portland alone, including taxi drivers, gig workers, domestic workers and, of course, restaurant workers,” said the new source. Democratic former U.S. senator said. York, secretary of state and presidential candidate. “You have an opportunity to ensure that every worker in Portland receives a stable, livable wage.”

“Portland never had a chance to vote on whether we wanted these Silicon Valley companies to come into the city and turn the economy upside down,” said Wespelle Tier, president of the American Democratic Socialist Maine Liveable Portland Movement. This puts the question on the ballot.

He said the group had heard from workers struggling to make enough money.

“These companies want to tell you they’re providing services, which is a great way to make money cheaply, but in reality these workers are being exploited,” Pelletier said.

Growth of the gig economy

According to the Pew Research Center, 16 percent of Americans earn money through gig work. This is the primary job for about three in 10 people.

Salaries vary and the rules can be complicated. According to the company, Uber drivers are charged per minute, per mile and receive 100 percent tips. Demand and wait times also affect compensation. DoorDash says compensation is based on projected time, distance and demand for orders, customer tips and promotions.

Lyft driver Ben Braasch near Portland Airport. Braasch, who has driven part-time for Lyft for about four years, worries that if Issue D passes, the company will cease operations in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff photographer

Lyft did not respond to emails seeking information on its compensation. Lyft, Uber and DoorDash also didn’t answer questions about how many workers they have in Portland. The Portland Area Chamber of Commerce estimates that at least a few thousand drivers in the area are working on app-based delivery and ride-hailing services.

John Brautigam, an attorney representing One Fair Wage, a group that advocates for Issue D, said in an email that city ordinances are unclear about whether gig workers must receive a minimum wage, and the referendum aims to rectify that.

Brautigam wrote that when many labor laws were enacted, app-based services did not yet exist, and the Maine law exempted taxi drivers from the minimum wage. But he said he doesn’t think state law targets modern gig workers.

The debate over how gig workers should be paid is raging across the country, with intense focus on whether workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors, which could affect the wages and benefits they are entitled to. Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employees are entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay, while independent contractors are not.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration proposed new rules that would make it easier for several categories of workers, including doormen, truck drivers and Uber drivers, to be classified as employees, giving them greater protections.

Portland’s Question D explicitly defines ride-hailing and delivery drivers as employees. Opponents say this threatens their flexibility as independent contractors.

Lyft driver Ben Braasch near Portland Airport. Braasch, who has driven part-time for Lyft for about four years, worries that if Issue D passes, the company will cease operations in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff photographer

A DoorDash spokesperson said: “The ability to work when, where and when they choose is the number one reason people want DoorDash to help them achieve their goals, which is why 90% of Dashers say they prefer to remain independent contractors .” in a statement. “We’re committed to protecting this flexibility so Portland’s Dashers and other delivery workers like them can continue to make money on their own terms.”

Marking drivers as “employees” in city ordinances and requiring a minimum wage doesn’t mean drivers can’t have flexibility either, Brautigam said. “A person may be legally classified as an ’employee’ for some purposes and not an ’employee’ for other purposes,” he said.

Gig workers below the minimum wage can still work flexibly, earning $18 no matter when or how long they work, Pelletier said. While he can’t speak for a company like Uber, he said, “I think what they have to do is say, ‘These workers are logged in, they’re paying the fare, and now they need to pay at least a minimum hourly wage.’ “

How much does a driver make?

Whether these drivers already earn minimum wage in Portland depends on who you talk to. Uber says its drivers average $37 an hour, while DoorDash says its “dashers” average more than $25, often working less than four hours a week.

Ben Braasch, who has driven at Lyft for four years, said he could easily make $120 for six to eight hours of work, or $15 to $20 an hour without fees — more than the $13 minimum in Portland Salary – and holidays and weekends are even better.

Braasch, 75, said he was concerned that if the proposal passed, the company, which helps pay for it with gas cards and auto repair discounts, could leave Portland. “They take great care of you and you don’t have to be an employee,” he said.

Uber driver Louis Ouellette said the company’s pay structure is opaque, and while he earns 30 to 50 percent of what passengers charge, he has no control over the fares and often struggles to understand how and why Uber is doing it.

Ouellette, who has been driving full-time for about a year, said if he worked more than 40 hours a week, he would make $1,000 to $1,200 before deductions for taxes, gas or maintenance. He estimates he could make $12 an hour after expenses, but he spends unpaid time waiting for rides and driving back and forth.

Ouellette said he’s actively looking for another job: “Most of the money I make goes back into the car, and Uber doesn’t care if their drivers are profitable.”

How will the new proposal work?

Some details of how the proposal will work if it passes are yet to be figured out.

Companies can still pay workers using a per-mile or per-minute rate, as long as they meet the pre-tip minimum wage, or they can pay a flat rate, Pelletier said. Ideally, drivers would be paid on the way to pick up, not just passengers in the car, although that’s another detail that needs to be determined, he said, requiring help from the new Fair Labor Practices Department under question D. .

An Uber spokeswoman did not directly answer questions about whether passage of the proposal would change how Portland drivers are paid. In markets with similar laws, such as Seattle, which approved a minimum wage of $16.39 an hour for Uber and Lyft drivers in 2020, the price of rides has risen and drivers are taking fewer rides, the spokesperson quoted the Seattle Times as saying.

“Every poll, survey and election has shown that drivers want to remain independent contractors, and we trust Portland voters will hear what workers actually need in November,” the spokesperson said in an email.

On a recent afternoon at the jet airport, a dozen drivers went in and out of a cell phone parking lot between rides. Most people are not familiar with question D.

Uber driver Abdullahi Aden wondered if he had to work fixed hours. “Now, I can get out anytime, and get in anytime,” he said. “If I didn’t want to take the trip, I wouldn’t do it, but problem D forces me to.”

Aden, who lives in Oban, drives 40 to 50 hours a week. Pay comes with “up and down”, fluctuating with seasons and tourist traffic, he said. “I make more money than going to the warehouse, and I can leave work whenever I want,” he said. “I’m my own boss.”

Goodwin, a driver from Turner, initially thought the $18 minimum wage was a good idea. She works 60 to 70 hours a week and earns $1,200 to $1,300 without fees. “At least it’s guaranteed money, and if you’re going to put 16 or 18 hours into the day, why not? I’d love to be able to do that,” Goodwin said.

But after thinking about it, she said she would not support the proposal. She said her hourly wages often top $18, especially during peak travel season, and while she pays for gas and car repairs, Uber offers bonuses and specials to help during peak hours.

“It’s probably going to go away with $18 an hour and maybe no overtime. It’s not going to be worth it anymore,” she said.

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