Pete Buttigieg speaks with Uber and Lyft drivers at a rally on Market Street Tuesday afternoon. (Photo courtesy Gig Workers Rising)

‘Mayor Pete’ Buttigieg protests with workers outside Uber HQ

California Uber and Lyft drivers agitating to be recognized as employees just got a big-name ally: presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

“Mayor Pete,” as he’s known, spoke outside Uber headquarters on Market Street in San Francisco Tuesday afternoon in support of the drivers’ efforts to help pass Assembly Bill 5.

That bill would give independent contractors in industries across the state status as employees, potentially granting them benefits and wage protections. Uber, Lyft and other entities are pushing back against the bill, calling it too sweeping.

The ride-hail companies have also said a large share of their workers prefer the flexibility granted by independent contractor status, allowing them to drive the hours they want.

Drivers honked their horns as Buttigieg spoke outside Uber headquarters at 1455 Market St. Tuesday, as protesters chanted “Drivers united will never be defeated,” and “Uber, Uber, Uber, you’re no good, treat your drivers like you should.”

“I’m the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, I’m running for president, and I’m here to let you know I stand with gig-workers,” Buttigieg said, using the term now most commonly used for app-connected workers.

“I’m here because where I come from, gig is another word for jobs,” he added. “That means you’re a worker and you ought to be protected as a worker.”

Protesters’ demands include the implementation of health insurance for driver, a better share of driving fees and a $30/hour minimum-wage, drivers and protesters told the San Francisco Examiner.

“Uber tells you they are taking 25% of each ride but I can assure you they are taking more. We are losing,” said Latosha Houston, 51, who has driven for Lyft for the past two years. Houston said she could not afford medical treatment for her diabetes because of dwindling wages.

“I don’t like when corporate businesses take advantage of innocent people trying to feed their family,” said Matt Putrick, 44, an Uber and Lyft driver for two years who joined the caravan of cars along the way.

Buttigieg said that workers “deserve a minimum wage,” protections from workplace and sexual harassment, overtime protections and “yes, that means you deserve a union.”

The Uber and Lyft drivers were traveling in a caravan organized by SEIU Local 721, the Mobile Workers Alliance, and Gig Workers Rising, working their way up California on a path to the state’s capitol mirroring that taken by labor organizer Cesar Chavez when fighting for farmworkers in 1966.

That route took the drivers to Delano, Fresno before they arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday.

California will become an early-voting state in 2020, which has prompted presidential candidates to campaign in the Golden State far more than in previous presidential elections.

“Do we want a future where there are no protections, no unions, and workers are not treated as workers?” Buttigieg asked the crowd, “or do we want a future with justice?”

The Mobile Workers Alliance provided housing and paid for gas during the journey to Sacramento.

“Without it, I could not afford taking two days off,” said Milton Hunt, 74, a member of the caravan who joined in Los Angeles.

A handful of protesters briefly tried to enter Uber’s headquarters before being stopped by police barricades.

“We will be back,” chanted the protesters.

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