Lenny Sanchez, of the Illinois Independent Drivers Guild, raises a fist while addressing ride-share organizers. Credit: Justice for App Workers

For the past six years, David Crane has been a ride-share driver for Uber and Lyft, chauffeuring passengers across the city for less than minimum wage. He often works 12 to 14 hours a day with no breaks in between. Recently, he found himself working 11 days straight to make up for the cost of rising gas prices and rent. 

Now Crane is one of 120,000 app workers—like ride-share or delivery app drivers—nationwide fighting the multibillion-dollar app companies for better pay, safer working conditions, and the right to unionize. 

“Our average pay per minute equals out to right below $14 an hour, which is just about poverty wages right now because of inflation and the cost of gas increasing,” Crane said. “We also need proper representation through a union and better safety.” 

Last week, more than a hundred Illinois app workers gathered in Schiller Woods on the far northwest side to announce they were joining Justice for App Workers, a growing national coalition of ride-share and delivery drivers that started in New York in February. The Illinois coalition includes seven driver groups representing app-based workers: Road Warriors Chicago, Illinois Independent Drivers Guild, Latinos Unidos Uber y Lyft, SOS Uber y Lyft, Rideshare Revolutionaries, Chicago Uber and Lyft Drivers, and Chicago Stolen Car Directory. 

Along with better pay and protections, app workers are also demanding quality healthcare benefits, reliable bathroom access, an end to unfair deactivation, and a 10 percent cap on all commissions to ensure drivers take home a larger percentage of the profit. 

For some ride-share drivers, safety is a top concern. Andy Thomashow worked as an Uber driver until a few weeks ago when he was carjacked and robbed at gunpoint by one of his passengers. He said it took Uber three days to respond to the incident. That’s when Thomashow learned he would have to pay for damages with his own money.

“Ride-share drivers don’t know where their pickup is going to be until they accept the ride and they don’t know where they’re going with the passenger until they pick up the passenger,” Thomashow said. “There’s really no way for the ride-share driver to know who [the passenger] is and that’s very wrong and unsafe.”

Since the incident, Thomashow said he fears for his life as a ride-share driver and doesn’t plan to do it again. 

Under state and federal law, app workers are not awarded the same legal protections as employees because they’re classified as independent contractors, which is generally defined as a self-employed person who can set their own payment rates. App workers, however, don’t get to decide how much they get paid—the app companies do. 

Crane said the coalition is seeking support from state officials to pass legislation that would allow independent contractors to unionize and create more protections for app-based workers. 

“We’re looking for government officials to realize that these companies need to be looked at under a fine-tooth comb,” Crane said. “We need better representation from a government level and from a union representative.”

“Having just got through a global pandemic, now more than ever, it is not enough to thank an essential worker,” state senator Ram Villivalam, a former union organizer whose district includes northwest Chicago and surrounding suburbs, said in a statement to the Reader. “We must enact policies that will positively impact their lives. Gig workers, like all working people, deserve fair wages and dignified working conditions.”