Uber, Lyft drivers need protection from ‘deactivation’ over bogus rider complaints

Uber and Lyft claim deactivations are the company’s response to concerns raised by customers, but too often, good responsible drivers who are innocent are unfairly fired.

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Uber and Lyft logos on a car Wednesday in Pilsen.

Uber and Lyft logos on a car in Pilsen.

Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

As an Uber driver in Chicago for more than four years, I’ve been proud to provide rides to commuters across our city. Ride-hailing drivers like me became essential workers when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, helping doctors and nurses and ensuring senior citizens and others were able to safely access medicine and food.

With Chicago returning to normalcy— as workers commute to the office again and support local restaurants, bars, and other businesses — ride-hail services are critical to keeping our city moving and growing.

But Uber and Lyft are threatening Chicago’s economy and our jobs with deactivations that decrease transit options and rip away jobs supporting our families. As a ride-hail driver who has been deactivated, I know how devastating this is. Billion-dollar tech giants should not silence drivers with an algorithm, enacting bans without transparency.

Chicago can fix this injustice with a new ride-hail drivers ordinance from Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th). This legislation would protect 30,000 drivers by guaranteeing the right to appeal these bans and put power back in the hands of workers.

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Uber and Lyft claim deactivations are the company’s response to concerns raised by customers, but too often, good responsible drivers who are innocent are unfairly fired. That’s what happened to me.

As a paraplegic, I worked as an Uber driver after an accident put me in a wheelchair. It was one of the few job opportunities for someone like me who is paralyzed from the waist down. I was shocked when Uber deactivated me based on a false claim. Even worse, despite numerous letters from me and my doctors that explained how the accusation was physically impossible due to my condition, Uber completely ignored me. To this day, Uber refuses to restore my job or provide compensation for the lost pay I need to support my family.

Tens of thousands of workers in the Chicagoland areahave been unfairly deactivated. Naveen Ali, a Chicago working mom and ride-hail driver, was deactivated in 2019 after an angry passenger attacked her and then filed a complaint against her. Bryan Cyhaniuk, a driver whose daughter has multiple heart defects, was deactivated after being falsely accused of taking a ring left in the backseat of his car and has since exhausted $16,000 in savings to cover his daughter’s medical bills and rent. It’s a heartbreaking pattern.

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In fact, deactivations are impacting drivers across the country. A new survey of drivers in California found that two-thirds had been deactivated at least once, and 86% of drivers faced economic hardship as a result, with 12% losing their homes. Drivers of color are the most impacted, with 69% experiencing deactivation. While some drivers are able to get their jobs back, most are not so lucky. Drivers are hung out to dry by a process that is extremely inconsistent, and attempts to communicate with Uber or Lyft go unnoticed.

10 cents cost to customers

Chicago’s plan to fix the broken system and give drivers a fair shake would follow the successful models in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. Under the Chicago proposal, Uber and Lyft must provide notice that they determined a driver was at fault for an infraction that resulted in their deactivation, and ride-hail drivers would be guaranteed the right to appeal before being stripped of their incomes.

As part of the solution, the ordinance would create a “Driver Resource Center” to give drivers a forum to present their side of the story. If the “Deactivation Appeals Panel” finds a false accusation was made, drivers would be compensated for lost pay plus 9% interest. With the creation of a modest 10 cents-per-ride charge, Chicago would be able to fund this new appeals process that helps to level the playing field and hold these billion-dollar companies accountable to all of us.

Chicago deserves a strong and reliable transportation network, and ride-hail drivers are a vital part of that system. Passing this new proposal would ensure that Chicago stops the broken system of Uber and Lyft unfairly deactivating innocent drivers and making it harder for Chicagoans to access the transportation they need. Every worker deserves to have their voice heard, and by passing this ordinance, the City Council can take a strong step to restore justice for the tens of thousands of ride-hail drivers who help to keep our city moving every day.

Emilio Ugalde is a former Chicago Uber and Lyft driver and leader with Justice for App Workers Midwest.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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