The Uber drivers forced to sleep in parking lots to make a decent living

Every Saturday morning before the sun rises, 35-year-old Uber driver Sultan Arifi rolls up the sleeping bag in the front seat of his car, places it in the trunk, and prepares for another day of work.

He will spend the next 12 hours picking up as many passengers as he can on the streets of San Francisco before returning to a grocery store parking lot in the north of the city to sleep, often for six hours or less, rising as early as he can on Sunday to do it all again.

The 35-year-old immigrant from Afghanistan commutes into San Francisco from Modesto, some 80 miles away, where he lives in an apartment with his wife and four children. He is one of a growing group of Uber drivers in San Francisco who spend nights in their cars in parking lots across the Bay Area on the weekends. Some come from places as far as eight hours away to make a living before returning home.

Arifi will be joining fellow Uber drivers in San Francisco and seven other cities across the US on Wednesday in a 12-hour strike protesting low wages ahead of the company’s public offering later this week. Drivers have four main demands: a living wage, transparency in decision-making, employee benefits, and a voice in company decisions.

“They are just taking care of themselves, they don’t care about us,” Arifi said of Uber’s leadership.

 Max, a driver for Uber and Lyft, commutes from Sacramento to work long hours driving in San Francisco.

 Max, a driver for Uber and Lyft, commutes from Sacramento to work long hours driving in San Francisco. Photograph: Brian L Frank/The Guardian
“Drivers are the main source of profit for these companies. They are not losing money, we are losing money. We are losing time – working into late nights, sleeping in places like this, because you have to, you have to do it to make money,” he added.

As Uber prepares to go public this week, there is growing unrest among drivers like Arifi who say they are not getting a big enough piece of the company’s ballooning profits.

Uber has been valued at as much as $91bn, and the company’s IPO is expected to turn some millionaires on the board into billionaires.

But drivers for Uber and Lyft, the Uber rival that went public in March, make a median wage of as little as $8.55 per hour before taxes, below the California minimum wage of $11 per hour and barely above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. In New York, Uber stopped hiring new drivers after local legislation forced it to increase the amount it pays to $17 per hour to earn the city’s minimum wage of $15 per hour – the baseline of what labor groups say is a living minimum wage there. San Francisco has introduced no such legislation.

Uber plans to give drivers approximately $300 million in bonuses to 1.1 million qualifying drivers around the world “to acknowledge Drivers who have participated in [its] success” ahead of the IPO, the company said in a statement. A spokesman said the company will continue to work with drivers to improve conditions.

“Drivers are at the heart of our service ─ we can’t succeed without them ─ and thousands of people come into work at Uber every day focused on how to make their experience better, on and off the road,” he said.





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