Atherton: Uber drivers, other contract workers protest outside of Uber investor's home


About 30 gig economy employees, mostly Uber drivers, on Nov. 6 protested outside the Atherton home of Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist and investor in the ride-hailing company.

Protesters gathered at 11 a.m. at the intersection of Prado Secoya Street and Elena Avenue, across the street from Sacred Heart Schools, before marching to Gurley's house on Prado Secoya Street, calling out chants including "Hey, hey, ho, ho, billionaires have got to go" while several Atherton police officers looked on.

Event organizers said the protest was aimed at improving working conditions and wages for gig economy workers, who are now treated as independent contractors, not employees. This treatment limits their ability to organize into unions or receive medical benefits through work, they said.

Gig economy labor is defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as a single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.

"The gig economy is hyper-exploitative," said Vanessa Bain, a Menlo Park resident who delivers for Instacart and Uber Eats. "With plummeting (pay) rates, we work more for increasingly less. There is nothing flexible about working 60-plus hours a week and still not being able to make ends meet."

The protest, one of three statewide scheduled for Wednesday by Gig Workers Rising and the Mobile Workers Alliance, coincided with the day that Uber investors could cash out on their investments in the company, which had its initial public offering in May, according to Business Insider.

The statewide day of action, called Deactivate Uber Billionaires, aimed to take a stand against Uber executives and investors who have made millions of dollars while drivers struggle to make ends meet, according to a write-up on the Facebook event page.

"November 6th is the day early Uber investors are free to cash out for the first time since the company went public on the stock market in May," the post said. "These investors stand to make billions of dollars while drivers are working countless hours to put food on their table."

After marching to Gurley's home, protesting workers spoke about wanting better pay, benefits and more transparency from gig economy companies, then read and left behind an outsized letter written on poster board at the front driveway gate of the house. The letter stated: "Dear Bill Gurley, As you enjoy your mansion, drivers are sleeping in their cars. Congrats on getting rich off our poverty! Sincerely, Drivers."

"We're here to remind people of the true costs of profits," said Carlos Ramos, who lives in Bakersfield, but drives for Uber in the Bay Area. "(Ride-hailing) drivers are not protected by the same working rights (as employees), are working 70 hours a week and sleeping in their cars."

In October, gig economy companies Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Postmates and Instacart pledged $90 million for a ballot initiative to ensure they would be exempt from California Assembly Bill 5 and be able to list their workers as independent contractors, not employees. AB 5 aims would categorize independent contractors — such as ride-hailing service drivers and delivery service workers — as employees.

"This has enraged drivers, who worked hard to organize and ensure AB 5 passed so that they could be recognized as employees and receive a livable wage and benefits," stated a Nov. 5 press release from Deactivate Uber Billionaires organizers.

The two other planned protests took place outside of Google Ventures' San Francisco office in the Embarcadero and outside of Uber chairman and co-founder Garrett Camp's Los Angeles home.

Gurley is a general partner at Benchmark, a venture capital firm in Menlo Park. Benchmark led an $11 million investment round in 2011 for Uber, according to Business Insider. Gurley left his position on Uber's board of directors in 2017, but has continued to support Uber.

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10 people like this
Posted by too many drivers
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 6, 2019 at 4:29 pm

The problem with Uber (and many of these other "gig jobs") is that there are too many drivers. The oversupply of labor keeps wages too low for them to make a living. The only practical solution is for half of the drivers to quit, then each driver would get more passengers, passengers would would be willing to pay higher fares for their rides, and the drivers would get more money per ride.

6 people like this
Posted by Drivers $5/hr - plenty
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 6, 2019 at 8:28 pm

Drivers $5/hr - plenty is a registered user.

Any idiot can drive. $5 per hour is plenty. It leaves billions for bigwigs.

2 people like this
Posted by Ok
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 7, 2019 at 8:35 am

“Too many drivers” issue can be solved by better selection/approval process for the drivers and cars. Sometimes the cars and drivers are sketchy.

10 people like this
Posted by too many drivers
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 7, 2019 at 1:45 pm

@Ok - your scheme will only work if Uber wants to reduce the number of drivers. Clearly that is not the case. More drivers increases Uber's level of service and at the same time reduces Uber's costs. More drivers is a big win for Uber. Reducing the number of drivers has to be enforced from outside the company, eg, by the drivers themselves.

14 people like this
Posted by Jake O.
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Nov 7, 2019 at 3:16 pm

How dare Uber force these people to work for such low wages!

In all seriousness though, if they want better working conditions, then they should buy a new car. If they want better pay, then go find another job.

I don't know how much an uber diver makes but generally the worst drivers on the road have Uber or Lyft stickers. They also seem park wherever they want. Take MV for example. The city took 2 parking spots on Dana near Bryant for drop off and pick up, yet Uber always stops on Castro blocking traffic.

I have no sympathy for Uber drivers. Coming here to work from Bakersfield is your choice. Uber won't pay you extra for that.

Also Uber has nearly 1 million drivers, you think they're going to listen to 30 people with another "hey, hey, ho, ho" chant?

6 people like this
Posted by However
a resident of Bailey Park
on Nov 7, 2019 at 7:12 pm

I think many of the Uber/Lyft drivers see it as a very part time job. Some are retired, some are students that take riders when they have time, I’ve been with drivers that either live or work in SF and take riders with them on their commute to and from work. Lots of different scenarios as the drivers can have total flexibility on their hours. You don’t get total flexibility so you can do “other things” and also pull high wages. You have to choose.

6 people like this
Posted by Unbalanced Article
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Nov 7, 2019 at 9:53 pm

This is a very unbalanced article and viewpoint. Drivers are choosing willingly to drive for Uber and Lyft because it's their best option to make a living. It's 1M+ jobs that didn't exist prior.

I rode with an Uber driver this weekend who was so upset that he'd have to drive specific shifts in specific areas if he was forced to become an employee. With 1M+ drivers, there are many stories out there and reasons why people drive.

Should we create better, higher paying entry-level jobs? Yes, that would be great and we should focus on that. We should also help drivers get access to the training and skills to qualify for better jobs as we create them.

3 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2019 at 7:05 am

Does anyone recall the early Uber ad tag-line to attract drivers? “Get your side hustle on” “Work a few hours here a few hours there and make money to take your girlfriend out to dinner”. I didn’t recall Uber ever advertising and promising a living wage, paid time off or benefits. If that’s what you need then please go get a job that offers such. Leave the true gig jobs to those that truly want and need the flexibility they offer. Try to find yourself a job with a fixed schedule, union dues, shared cost for healthcare benefits, We all have choices and are fortunate we do, so please don’t decide to take advantage of your choice and then complain it’s not good enough for you. What you’re looking for was never promised by Uber or Lyft. Leave well enough alone, leave the flexible work for those that choose it and go find another job. Pretty simple concept.....

2 people like this
Posted by ZeroZero Win
a resident of Monta Loma
on Nov 13, 2019 at 11:22 am

We all deserve a living wage.

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