Why Many Uber Drivers Couldn’t Afford To Stay Home During Australia’s Fires

Uber’s business model is built to exploit workers. In 13 major U.S. markets, drivers are paid below minimum wage.

In These Times Editors

(d3sign / Getty)

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Australia’s bushfire crisis has killed tens and incinerated an area two-thirds the size of Illinois. The resulting blanket of smog reduced air quality in the nation’s capital, Canberra, to third worst among all major cities. But the latest manifestation of the climate crisis has hurt an already hard-done by group: gig workers delivering food for Uber Eats. While state governments have advised people to stay home, for gig workers relying on Uber to survive that’s tantamount to asking them to starve, miss rent, or fall behind on loans. All Uber has done, according to these workers, is warn them that going outside hurts their health. Concerning itself as little as possible with its employees’ well-being is a central part of Uber’s business model, defining its workers as independent contractors so it can skimp on providing health care, benefits, or a minimum wage.

But viciously exploiting its drivers — or changing the norms’ that led to a culture of sexual harrasment” at the company — didn’t stop Uber from losing $1.2 billion between July and September of last year. Their balance sheet from the three months prior to that had them $5.2 billion in the red. Despite never fulfilling the capitalist imperative to turn a profit, ridesharing services like Uber have managed to remake urban life, destroying the licensed taxi industry at a substantial human cost and worsening traffic in major American cities. As the numbers show, the daily reality of Uber drivers is no more rational or fair than one would expect from a company that loses billions while awarding its CEO a $3 million salary.

  • 3,900,000 — Uber drivers worldwide in 2019
  • 36% — U.S. adults who say they used a ride-hailing service in 2018
  • 30% — Uber’s cut of each driver’s fares as of 2019
  • $9.73 — Estimated hourly net income (including tips) of Uber drivers in 2018, factoring in vehicle expenses and Uber’s cut
  • 13 — Major U.S. markets where Uber drivers’ hourly compensation (before taxes) was below the mandated minimum wage in 2018, including the three largest: Chicago, Los Angeles and New York
  • $20,000 — Estimated annual salary, after expenses but before taxes, for an Uber driver working 40 hours per week in 2018
  • $20 million — Amount the Federal Trade Commission fined Uber for falsely claiming its NYC drivers could make $90,000/year in 2017; the company couldn’t produce a single driver who made that much
  • $143 million — Total compensation for Uber’s top five executives in 2018
  • $90 million — Amount pledged by Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to fight a 2019 California law that would classify rideshare workers as employees rather than contractors 
  • 0 — Latinx or Black employees who held Uber tech leadership roles in 2018
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