Proposal to boost rideshare driver pay moves forward in Minneapolis

People stand around microphone
Uber driver Marianna Brown addresses crowd before of city council public hearing about a proposed Minneapolis ordinance to give added protections and minimum wage to ride share drivers in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Nina Moini | MPR News

Members of the Minneapolis City Council are considering a measure designed to increase wages and improve working conditions for Uber and Lyft drivers in the city. Around two dozen people — many of them drivers — signed up to speak during a public hearing held in city council chambers Tuesday afternoon.  

The proposed ordinance would, in part, ensure that any driver who has a ride that originates in Minneapolis, would make an equivalent to the city’s minimum wage  — which is $15 per hour.

The ordinance would change some protocols around deactivation — firing of Uber drivers to give them more explanation. It would also eliminate the use of gift cards not issued by the rideshare companies, so there would be a way to trace riders and hold them accountable if necessary. 

Marianna Brown, an Uber driver for more than six years, said protections for drivers are necessary because riders have become increasingly aggressive in recent years.

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“They're very disrespectful. They threaten us, they talk down to us like we're not human beings,” she said. “And when we respond to them, they'll go and say we’re drunk. And then Uber don't listen to us.”   

Other drivers complained about low wages. According to Stephen Cooper, who is an attorney representing a group of drivers called  MULDA — which stands for Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association — wages have dropped 60 percent since 2014.

Abdi Haybe, a member of the SEIU workers union and former Uber driver came to City Hall to show support for drivers and advocate for higher wages and better working conditions. Haybe says he hopes elected officials will pass the proposed ordinance.

“I'm hoping someone can listen to their concerns,” said Haybe. “I'm hoping to add my voice to those who will listen — including city officials.”

More than seven months ago, the city started working with MULDA, whose members were coming to city hall and demonstrating to ask for better wages and protections.

Council member Robin Wonsley is one of several council members who authored the proposed ordinance after months of engaging with drivers. 

“If you are working within the city of Minneapolis, you are going to get minimum wage compensation, you are going to get dignified wages, the protections that you deserve and you are going to get the resources to make sure that whatever policies we pass are enforced so you can reap the material benefits of that as well as your families,” she said. 

The proposed ordinance which came from the discussions with drivers is similar to a bill vetoed by Gov. Walz during the last session. The governor also convened a task force to study this issue and come back with recommendations in January 2024.

That is also when this Minneapolis ordinance would take effect if it passes. City staff say it is unclear how the city and state rules would interact, but that any state-level legislation could preempt a city ordinance in Minneapolis.

Uber and Lyft have said they don’t support these efforts at the city level and they were very vocal in threatening to pull services from the state when the bill law passed that was later vetoed by the governor. These companies have not been involved with the Minneapolis plan, according to city staff. But Uber has said they are interested in finding a resolution. 

“Our goal remains unchanged: we want to work with drivers and local legislators on a compromise that raises rates for drivers without hurting riders,” said Uber spokesperson Freddi Goldstein in a statement. “That's why we're proud to serve on the Governor's Task Force and look forward to coming up with a framework for statewide legislation — which is how this issue should be handled, rather than a patchwork of different rules and regulations statewide.” 

Minneapolis city staff say there isn’t verifiable data from other places like Seattle that have enacted similar protections for rideshare drivers. But they say there is anecdotal data to show that a measure like this could raise the cost of using these services for riders. 

Lyft Senior Public Policy Manager Brent Kent said in a letter sent to the Minneapolis City Council that 56 percent of Lyft rides in Minneapolis start or end in low-income areas.

Under this proposed Minneapolis ordinance, he said rides would be “more expensive than a cab in Manhattan.” Kent also said a trip today that costs $20, will cost $40 under the proposed changes.

The council is expected to vote on the proposal next week.