Labor organizer Eric Dryburgh, right, leads a rally by ride-hail drivers outside the San Francisco district office of the California Department of Industrial Relations on Wednesday. (David Horowitz/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Uber, Lyft drivers file wage theft claims

The move represented the first action by labor organizers pressuring state officials to enforce the new law.

Citing AB 5, more than 130 ride-hail drivers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego filed wage theft claims on Wednesday against ride-hail giants Uber and Lyft with the California Labor Commission Office.

The landmark law, which took effect on Jan. 1, establishes rules regarding contract workers and when they should be classified as employees, guaranteeing them benefits like minimum wage, overtime, paid sick leave and Social Security.

“It’s the law in California,” said Chris Arellano, a member of Rideshare Drivers United, the 10,000-member organization that led the mass with help from the Transport Workers Union of America. “Uber and Lyft have refused to obey the law, and the state hasn’t enforced it.”

The move represented the first action by labor organizers pressuring state officials to enforce the new law. Altogether, the claims demand millions of dollars in lost wages and expenses, with individual amounts ranging from thousands of dollars to more than $100,000.

“This is just a drop in the bucket,” said Nicole Moore, another member of the organization, referring to the claims. “We expect thousands in the next couple of months to go in.”

Their formula for calculating back-wages is based on minimum wage, overtime and reimbursement for basic expenses, and each accounts for up to three years retroactively, according to the Labor Commissioner’s Office website.

Carlo Garibay, a seven-year ride-hail driver, was one of the drivers filing a claim. He said he’s seen Uber and Lyft both drop their pay fractionally over the years. He works nearly double the time he did before to make roughly the same amount, he added.

More than 130 ride-hail drivers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego filed wage theft claims on Wednesday. (Courtesy/ Sundry Photography)

He moved out of his Sunset District home in 2017 upon realizing he wouldn’t be able to afford a house and now commutes to The City from Hercules. He would have stayed in San Francisco if his pay wasn’t slashed as it was, he said.

He filed for an estimated $80,000 from Lyft and about $40,000 from Uber, he said.

“It’s not like we’re trying to steal it — we’ve earned it,” he said.

Many ride-hail drivers, however, don’t support the new law.

“If I’m only allowed to work for one company and become an employee, my income will diminish, my freedom will be nonexistent and my ability to have flexibility in my schedule in my life will disappear,” said Sammy Lind, a Lyft driver who lives in Monterey County, echoing a perspective shared by many other ride-hail drivers opposing the law.

But for Moore, flexibility wasn’t an option.

“When we’re working 60 to 70 hours a week, and you can’t take days off to visit a sick parent, you don’t have flexibility,” she said.

Uber didn’t return a request for comment at press time. Lyft declined to comment. District attorneys in the counties of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego either declined to respond or didn’t respond to a request for comment at press time.


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