Rideshare drivers demand city pass ordinance for improved safety and living wage
If passed, the Chicago Rideshare Living Wage and Safety Ordinance would raise drivers’ wages, improve driver safety and create a transparent system to handle driver deactivation.
More than 35 rideshare drivers gathered outside Uber’s support center for drivers in West Town Thursday to call on City Council to pass an ordinance aimed at improving working conditions, pay and safety.
Rideshare drivers with the Chicago Gig Alliance, which works to improve the conditions of gig workers in the city, were joined by the family of Mohammed al Hejoj, an Uber driver who was killed this month while on the job, and Ald. Lamont Robinson (4th) outside Uber’s Greenlight Hub, 1401 W. North Ave. If passed, the Chicago Rideshare Living Wage and Safety Ordinance would raise drivers’ wages, create a transparent system to handle driver deactivation and improve driver safety.
The ordinance is currently supported by 30 members of the City Council and Mayor Brandon Johnson. Organizers of Thursday’s protest said they were told that chief sponsor Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) said the goal was to bring the ordinance to a vote in City Council within the next two months.
“All Chicagoans, including our rideshare drivers deserve to have their rights protected, deserve to have their pay protected and as a member of the city of Chicago, we will make sure we get there,” Robinson said.
Al Hejoj was driving his black 2017 Cadillac Escalade ESV with four passengers in the 1700 block of North Lotus Avenue in the Austin neighborhood on Dec. 3 when a witness saw the car stop, then heard several gunshots and spotted the four passengers jumping out of the car and fleeing, Chicago police and one of his friends said.
His sister, Kawkab al Hejoj, 45, believes her brother would still be alive if Uber had had more safety protections for its drivers.
“The driver’s life means a lot,” she said. “They have kids, they look for a better future for their kids, for their families, for their parents, for their wives, their sisters, siblings. They’re human beings like us, and they deserve to be safe too when they do their job.”
Kawkab al Hejoj said that although Uber does a lot to protect passengers by requiring identification and background checks on drivers, the company doesn’t do enough to protect drivers.
“It’s a tragedy, and basically, no one is taking responsibility for it,” said Ayub Julany, 29, a friend of Mohammed al Hejoj. “His 6-month-old infant is the one who’s gonna pay for it. Throughout his whole life they’re gonna grow up without a father.”
Recent research from The Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), the Chicago Gig Alliance, and The People’s Lobby found that 74% of Illinois drivers surveyed reported experiencing threats, harassment or assaults in the last year. The SOC is a coalition of unions that advocates for workers and consumers. The Chicago Gig Alliance is a project of the Chicago-based activist organization The People’s Lobby.
Drivers also demanded a base pay rate comparable to rates in other major cities and “due process” when drivers are deactivated by Uber or Lyft, stripping them of the ability to pick up passengers.
Nolberto Casas, an organizer and driver, said there is currently no base pay for rides in Chicago. Instead, Uber pays based on “dynamic pricing,” in which rates change based on location, time of day and other factors. Pointing to base pay in Seattle and New York City, Chicago drivers are seeking 64 cents per minute and $1.85 per mile.
Drivers also want to be able to appeal deactivations. Maurice Clark, a former rideshare driver, was deactivated by Uber in 2016 for what he said was a false allegation of drinking while driving and then by Lyft in 2021 for allegedly sleeping behind the wheel. Clark drove more than 9,000 rides with Uber and 6,000 rides with Lyft, he said.
Clark said he bought a car to drive for Uber and struggled to pay for it after losing his job.
“One day I got a job, and the next day I can’t pay my bills,” he said.
Uber and Lyft deactivated nearly 10,000 drivers since 2020, with almost 4,000 driver accounts permanently deactivated in 2022, according to Chicago city data analyzed in a recent report by the Chicago Gig Alliance and The People’s Lobby.
In a statement, Lyft said it has a dedicated safety team, but executives are aware “there is more work to do and are always looking for ways to improve.”
Uber is “constantly building features that help enhance safety,” an Uber spokesperson said in an email Thursday. The spokesperson also said Uber has a process that works to “provide drivers with important deactivation information, allow drivers to dispute deactivations and enable them to submit relevant information that would support their reactivation.”
“Last month, we announced plans to further expand the verification of rider identities and inform drivers when they’re picking up verified riders,” the spokesperson said.
Correction: A previous story misspelled the name of Uber driver Mohammed al Hejoj.