MINNEAPOLIS — A proposal in the Minnesota Legislature is meant to protect workers for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.
But the two companies claim it actually threatens how much drivers earn.
Uber launched in Minnesota in 2012, while Lyft started two years later – the same year Eid Ali started driving for both of them.
It’s a job, he says, comes with a lot of risk.
“I always think about, 'Am I going to come back safely and see my family?'” said Ali.
Last year, he formed the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association which now has more than 1,200 members. They are fighting for wage increases, better insurance coverage and protections against being fired, along with minimum rates, according to Ali’s lawyer, Stephen Cooper.
“The amount they’re being paid has gone down to about half and the expenses have gone up, so they’re left with almost nothing,” said Cooper.
The bill that the driver association supports is one that’s been revised several times. Cooper says it’s the basic, essential bill yet. It sets compensation rates at $1.85 and $0.25 which goes down if a rider is closer.
Lyft says that would make rides so expensive fewer people could afford them.
Its statement to KARE 11 reads, “Fair pay for drivers is an important topic, but it needs to be done in a way that doesn't jeopardize the service for the majority of Minnesotans. The current bill would turn a $20 ride into a more than $50 one, meaning drivers would actually earn less than they are today because only the most wealthy could afford one. In the Twin Cities, 56% of Lyft rides start or end in low-income areas and the majority of our riders are below the state's median income level. Instead of forcing a bill that would destroy the service for many of the communities who depend on it, we should continue to work together on a solution that benefits all."
While Uber says as of Monday evening, 300 drivers emailed lawmakers asking them to oppose the bill.
Its statement to KARE 11 reads, "Since March, we have asked legislators to work with us to pass a bill that raises rates for drivers without doubling the cost for riders. We have worked directly with drivers to negotiate a deal that increases their rates, adds additional insurance and protects their status as independent contractors. Unfortunately, that is not what we see in the bills being rushed through in the final week."
On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz says he hasn’t committed to signing this bill and that it’s unlikely it will pass this session which expires May 22.
“The new economy, especially around the gig economy, we have to think about these workers,” said Gov. Walz. “It's something that I think there's a lot more conversations to happen and there's a lot more advocate groups that I think need to be at the table.”
Uber and Lyft drivers are considered independent contractors, so they also aren’t eligible for benefits, like sick time and family leave. Ali hopes the bill is still on track, as it’s expected the House will vote on it tomorrow. There are dozens of amendments that all have to be debated beforehand.
If it passes, it goes on to the Senate.
“I’m expecting the governor to do the right thing and help those drivers because they’re his constituents,” said Ali.
The authors of the bill weren’t available for interviews but offered statements.
Sen. Omar Fateh wrote, “Fair labor standards for rideshare drivers is a matter of basic worker rights. This legislation is the result of months of work from thousands of drivers who organized to bring their story to the Capitol. Minnesotans trust these drivers to safely drive them and their loved ones every day. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t have the same rights and protections as other workers. Rep. Hodan Hassan and I have worked with our leadership and stakeholders to arrive at the latest version of this important bill. I look forward to seeing it pass off the House floor on Wednesday, and eagerly await the chance to bring the bill to the Senate in the coming days.”
Rep. Hodan Hassan wrote, “This bill sends a message that says the era of large corporations getting away with exploiting workers is over. We will not tolerate bad actors exploiting hardworking Minnesotans to pad their corporate pockets. If your business relies on keeping your workers in poverty, you don’t have a successful business model, and you need to do better here in Minnesota. Rideshare companies have successfully made these changes in other states who have put their foot down to their unethical operations, and now, Minnesota will join the ranks and say ‘enough.’”
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