AP NEWS

Stamford Uber location closes doors to protesting drivers

May 8, 2019

STAMFORD — When it opened, Uber’s Greenlight Hub in Waterside was hailed as the place for any driver to get questions answered face-to-face, but on Wednesday, a group of disgruntled drivers weren’t even allowed inside the building.

Instead, they were ordered to leave the private property, and Stamford police were called to make sure they left.

It was a stark contrast to the fanfare that accompanied the opening of the building as the state’s first resource center for Uber drivers.

The irony wasn’t lost on driver Moses Dahn from New Haven.

“This building was put here for driver support,” he said. “We are here to give Uber this letter and Uber doesn’t want to respond.”

The letter he wanted to hand-deliver urged Uber to not oppose a state bill that would require drivers get a set percentage of fares, while also attacking the company for “the callous way in which you treat your employees as disposable.”

A portion of the letter reads, “You should stop running Uber like a feudal estate or a plantation and instead engage respectfully with its drivers, your workforce.”

A coalition of Uber and Lyft drivers from New Haven have been pressuring Connecticut lawmakers to pass a pay standard like the minimum pay ordinance passed in New York City in December that sets an earnings floor of $17.22 an hour.

Connecticut drivers currently have no minimum pay guarantees, but state legislators are set to discuss a bill that would not allow ride-hailing services to take more than 25 percent of the fare collected from a rider.

Dahn and many other Uber and Lyft drivers across the state turned off their apps Wednesday morning between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. to protest declining wages at a time when both companies are bringing in billions in profit.

Protests took place in 10 U.S. cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, just ahead of Uber’s initial public stock offering Friday. Uber hopes to raise $9 billion, putting the company’s valuation in excess of $91 billion.

The demonstrations across the country did not seem to cause much disruption, however, and many riders were still able to hail a car with ease.

Uber, in a prepared statement, said it is focused on improving working conditions for drivers.

“Drivers are at the heart of our service — we can’t succeed without them — and thousands of people come into work at Uber every day focused on how to make their experience better, on and off the road,” the company said.

Lyft claimed its drivers’ hourly earnings have increased over the last two years and that, on average, the company’s drivers earn over $20 an hour before subtracting expenses such as gas and vehicle maintenance.

“We know that access to flexible, extra income makes a big difference for millions of people, and we’re constantly working to improve how we can best serve our driver community,” Lyft said.

Wednesday morning, a group of Uber drivers showed up to the company’s Stamford location at 470 West Ave. hoping to speak to a representative.

James Bhandary-Alexander, counsel to the striking workers, said Uber has avoided the drivers and their complaints.

“They’re facing tens of thousands of drivers doing things like this all around the world today and they’re trying to say as little as possible,” he said.

After showing up, the drivers were told they could not park at the office’s parking lot. Instead, they parked their cars in a no-parking area along the road directly in front of the building. Eventually, the drivers attempted to walk into the building on foot, but were stopped at the door and told they could not go in.

Dahn asked an Uber representative at the door if they could turn in the letter detailing their displeasure with the company. After he was told they could not go any farther, he asked to speak to a supervisor.

Eventually, the same representative returned and said the general manager would take the letter but would not speak to anyone.

“He’ll come out and take the letter but will not answer any questions or do any interviews,” the man said.

Soon, police arrived on scene after receiving a call stating the protesting workers were blocking a driveway. Stamford officers told the drivers to leave the premises or else they would have to issue tickets to their illegally parked cars.

After almost 20 minutes of waiting for the general manager to come down, the drivers left.

Bhandary-Alexander told the group that Uber doesn’t want to deal with them.

“The reason that you are not allowed to go into this building, which is only meant for drivers to interface with Uber, is because they don’t like what you’re going to say,” he said. “They don’t like that you’re standing up for your rights.”

Rosana Olan, who organized the Connecticut strike, was disheartened by Uber’s response.

“I think we deserve some respect and dignity because we are making them rich,” she said.

Dahn has been driving with Uber for about a year and a half, and he said in that span of time, his take-home pay has diminished considerably.

“They think everyone who works for them are low-income people, people who didn’t go to school, and they could just do whatever they want to,” he said of Uber. “They keep all of the money and give you nothing.”

Luis Fermin Diaz of New Haven, who was at the Stamford event, was an Uber driver for three years.

He said the company ended his employment one day with no explanation. He has tried multiple times to get some answers with no luck. For Diaz, a father of three, it was a major setback since he purchased a car in 2015 in order to be a Uber driver.

“Imagine how hard it’s been for me to pay for the car and support my family,” he said.

ignacio.laguarda@hearstmediact.com