Lyft attempts negotiation on Minneapolis drivers’ wage increase

A closeup of Uber and Lyft stickers
Uber and Lyft stickers are prominently displayed on a Toyota Camry in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The rideshare company Lyft has told Minneapolis city council members that it now supports a raise for drivers that’s in line with state recommendations. 

It’s an effort to head off a deadline at the end of the month, when Lyft and Uber have threatened to cease operations in Minneapolis if a policy requiring raises and employee protections for rideshare drivers goes into effect. 

Lyft’s chief policy officer Jeremy Bird said in a letter addressed to Council President Elliott Payne that the company is now willing to support an increase to .89 cents per mile and about .49 cents per minute, which is the rate recommended in a study released last month by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. 

Bird said in the letter that the Minneapolis ordinance, which raises the rates to $1.40 a mile and 51 cents per minute, would price out riders and lead to an expected 51 percent decrease in the number of rides. He said that would lead to decreased wages for drivers.  

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One of the bill’s authors, council Member Robin Wonsley, said she won’t negotiate on the city’s minimum wage. 

“In Minneapolis, we require that all businesses pay a minimum wage of $15.57, and there is no reason to make exemptions for billion-dollar corporations,” Wonsley said. 

Wonsley said other rideshare companies have announced plans to operate in the city with rates that meet the minimum wage, which she said the council is working to help grow. 

“For far too long, this industry has exploited workers of color and immigrant workers for cheap labor,” Wonsley said. “We have the opportunity and the responsibility to build a rideshare industry that is not based on poverty wages and exploitation.”  

A spokesperson for Frey, who vetoed the city’s ordinance but was overridden by the council, said he still supports an ordinance based on state data. 

Other council members have said they’re open to changing the city’s ordinance. Council Member Andrea Jenkins originally voted for both the ordinance and an override of Mayor Jacob Frey’s veto, but introduced a motion to reconsider it last month. She told MPR News that she’s committed to finding a solution that allows drivers to earn at least a minimum wage. 

The city ordinance has been criticized by some disabled residents and their advocates, who argue that Lyft and Uber leaving the area would make it difficult for them to get around. 

According to Hennepin County, about 4,418 people who use vouchers for rideshare services would be affected if the companies leave, including more than 2,000 city residents.  

A separate proposal is being considered at the state Legislature, but neither chamber’s version allows the state to preempt the Minneapolis policy. Legislative leaders said they've been working behind the scenes with stakeholders on a statewide proposal to boost wages and keep the companies in the state. 

“I think we’re making really good progress,” said House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis. “We’ve been working with Uber and Lyft through the bill language, been working with the city of Minneapolis as well and trying to find a path forward to agreement. So I’m confident we can get one by the end of session.”

Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-Saint Paul, echoed that sentiment. The pair, along with lobbyists for the rideshare companies, said sticking points remain around provisions in the bill that allow drivers to sue the companies over injuries or dismissal from the app.

“We didn’t include this private right of action that we don’t ask for any independent contractors in the state of Minnesota,” Joel Carlson, a lobbyist for Uber Technologies, told a house committee that took up the bill Thursday. “And we don’t want to treat this company any differently than any others.”

Sticking points remained around provisions in the bill that allow drivers to sue the companies over injuries or dismissal from the app.

Lyft spokesperson John Reich said the company supports all the consensus items that were agreed to by a recent state task force, which recommended some guidance around areas like driver terminations but failed to reach consensus on the important issue of a minimum wage for drivers.   

“I think we want to support legislation at the end of the day that’s good for drivers and good for riders,” Reich said. 

The proposed state legislation wouldn’t preempt Minneapolis’ policy. Any revisions to city policy would likely be considered at the council’s regular meeting next Thursday or at the subsequent meeting two weeks later.