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Uber drivers, other contract workers protest outside of Uber investor's home

Protest takes place as Uber, Lyft and food-delivery firms try to get exemption from Assembly Bill 5

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Uber drivers Mostafa Maklad, left, and Carlos Ramos deliver an outsized letter to the Atherton home of Uber investor Bill Gurley. (Photo by Sammy Dallal/The Almanac)

About 30 gig economy employees, mostly Uber drivers, on Nov. 6 protested outside the Atherton home of Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist and investor in the ride-hailing company.

Protesters gathered at 11 a.m. at the intersection of Prado Secoya Street and Elena Avenue, across the street from Sacred Heart Schools, before marching to Gurley's house on Prado Secoya Street, calling out chants including "Hey, hey, ho, ho, billionaires have got to go" while several Atherton police officers looked on.

Event organizers said the protest was aimed at improving working conditions and wages for gig economy workers, who are now treated as independent contractors, not employees. This treatment limits their ability to organize into unions or receive medical benefits through work, they said.

Gig economy labor is defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as a single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.

"The gig economy is hyper-exploitative," said Vanessa Bain, a Menlo Park resident who delivers for Instacart and Uber Eats. "With plummeting (pay) rates, we work more for increasingly less. There is nothing flexible about working 60-plus hours a week and still not being able to make ends meet."

The protest, one of three statewide scheduled for Wednesday by Gig Workers Rising and the Mobile Workers Alliance, coincided with the day that Uber investors could cash out on their investments in the company, which had its initial public offering in May, according to Business Insider.

The statewide day of action, called Deactivate Uber Billionaires, aimed to take a stand against Uber executives and investors who have made millions of dollars while drivers struggle to make ends meet, according to a write-up on the Facebook event page.

"November 6th is the day early Uber investors are free to cash out for the first time since the company went public on the stock market in May," the post said. "These investors stand to make billions of dollars while drivers are working countless hours to put food on their table."

After marching to Gurley's home, protesting workers spoke about wanting better pay, benefits and more transparency from gig economy companies, then read and left behind an outsized letter written on poster board at the front driveway gate of the house. The letter stated: "Dear Bill Gurley, As you enjoy your mansion, drivers are sleeping in their cars. Congrats on getting rich off our poverty! Sincerely, Drivers."

"We're here to remind people of the true costs of profits," said Carlos Ramos, who lives in Bakersfield, but drives for Uber in the Bay Area. "(Ride-hailing) drivers are not protected by the same working rights (as employees), are working 70 hours a week and sleeping in their cars."

In October, gig economy companies Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Postmates and Instacart pledged $90 million for a ballot initiative to ensure they would be exempt from California Assembly Bill 5 and be able to list their workers as independent contractors, not employees. AB 5 aims would categorize independent contractors — such as ride-hailing service drivers and delivery service workers — as employees.

"This has enraged drivers, who worked hard to organize and ensure AB 5 passed so that they could be recognized as employees and receive a livable wage and benefits," stated a Nov. 5 press release from Deactivate Uber Billionaires organizers.

The two other planned protests took place outside of Google Ventures' San Francisco office in the Embarcadero and outside of Uber chairman and co-founder Garrett Camp's Los Angeles home.

Gurley is a general partner at Benchmark, a venture capital firm in Menlo Park. Benchmark led an $11 million investment round in 2011 for Uber, according to Business Insider. Gurley left his position on Uber's board of directors in 2017, but has continued to support Uber.


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Angela Swartz is a staff writer with the Almanac, Palo Alto Online's sister publication.

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25 people like this
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2019 at 10:54 am

How many of the protesters are being forced to work for these firms?

34 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow Dad
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 7, 2019 at 11:47 am

I genuinely don't understand why people who knowingly enter into the gig economy suddenly think that the gig companies owe them full time permanent benefits. I didn't see the Uber drivers worrying too much about what impact they had on taxi drivers.

When you willingly enter into such an obvious situation why would you possibly think protesting an original investor is the right way to handle it?

Maybe I'm missing something...I'm always willing to listen to other sides so feel free to add insights for my benefit - I'm happy to be wrong!

11 people like this
Posted by dtn north
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2019 at 11:54 am

I have to agree with Fairmeadow Dad

21 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2019 at 12:13 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

The fact that this group went to the investor's home makes me have even less sympathy than I would otherwise have for them. What did they expect to accomplish? I suspect that they simply made this man and his family feel afraid.

Like Garden Gnome said, no one is forcing these drivers to work there. If they want to really hurt Uber, then they should organize a strike.

Of course, the result would likely be other drivers to happily replace them OR the implementation of changes in the GIG economy that would make those jobs more like the jobs that Uber drivers eschewed in the first place.

16 people like this
Posted by Brad
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 7, 2019 at 12:57 pm

Agree with all comments written so far.....entitlement is the issue and since they were teased about benefits that this great Governor stuck his nose into something he really knows nothing about, then these part time drivers who maybe could or could not get a job anywhere else, now feel that they should also reap the benefits of what the governor promised....Sorry this state of CA is going too far to the left and trying to create a Socialistic society within our capitalistic country. No wonder business are setting up shop in other states.

5 people like this
Posted by wander3r
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2019 at 1:43 pm

wander3r is a registered user.

Deactivate Uber Billionaires, the ones who invested so much that we *have* jobs to complain about.

15 people like this
Posted by too many drivers
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 7, 2019 at 1:46 pm

The problem with Uber (and many of these other "gig jobs") is that there are too many drivers. The oversupply of labor keeps wages too low for them to make a living. The only practical solution is for half of the drivers to quit, then each driver would get more passengers, passengers would would be willing to pay higher fares for their rides, and the drivers would get more money per ride.

5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2019 at 2:17 pm

Posted by Brad, a resident of Charleston Gardens

>> Sorry this state of CA is going too far to the left and trying to create a Socialistic society within our capitalistic country. No wonder business are setting up shop in other states.

You may have found something we can agree on. If only Über would set up shop in Huntsville, AL ...

Anyway, what is it specifically that this state of California is doing that is so far to the "left"?

3 people like this
Posted by Suemah
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2019 at 2:32 pm

Suemah is a registered user.

Sounds like mediation might help - I've talked to Uber drivers who like their current independence and don't want to be subjected to rules like an employee. Isn't there a reasonable way to resolve this dispute? There are so many variables involved, to me it needs more analysis.

16 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2019 at 2:41 pm

All they're doing is hastening the day when Uber and Lyft transition to self-driving cars. Whose family will they harass then?

8 people like this
Posted by Sophie888
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2019 at 6:27 pm

This protest is too personal. There are UBER founder, Board members, UBER shareholders, UBER employees, and other UBER drivers out there, and UBER headquarter in the city. why did they target this investor specifically? And the protestors are not forced to be a UBER driver and from the beginning, they were rewarded by bonus for the purpose to force the taxi industry out of business. Did they show sympathy to the taxi drivers?

9 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow Dad
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 8, 2019 at 6:35 am

I think I have a response to @Toomanydrivers... the advertising Uber has used for as long as I've been aware of Uber is "get your side hustle on". In other words, Uber driver supply is essentially based on people driving when they have extra time. What has happened is that a lot of people have tried to turn it into a full time career.

As an example, I had an Uber driver earlier this year when I needed to catch a ride to SJC at 5am for a flight (my work... my full time career had me going on a business trip)... so I ask the guy who picks me up at 5am if he lives around here (b/c why else would someone be available at 5am on a Monday in my opinion in this sleepy neighborhood). Driver is a guy in his late 20s and he says he's from Fresno and that he drives to Mountain View late Sunday nights and crashes on a friend's couch and drives in the Bay Area until Friday afternoons then goes back to Fresno. I thanked him for sharing that info.

I thought about it, though and wondered how it was sensible (or not) that a young man in the key early years of career development would possibly decide that this decision has any sustainability for him to build a life. I thought to myself that he is throwing away the critical years of starting to work at something that can develop into career options. I suppose he could eventually use his field knowledge to work at Uber HQ, but if you're not working in the HQ you aren't building any contacts that will be critical nor are you seeing how the entire business works. Anyway, that's a long way of saying that I think the people who are relying on Uber are trying to turn it into something it wasn't expected to be.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 9, 2019 at 9:57 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

As a retired employee of a "normal" company all of the taxes required were paid in by both the company and employee - through tax withdrawals in the paycheck. Social Security is based on a withdrawal from the employees paycheck and a matching payment by the company - FICA rules. Add to that the taxes withheld and then forwarded to the respective governments - state and federal. If the whole government budget is based on tax payments then the question comes in how are all of these Gig companies - people supporting the budgets. Payroll taxes require a lot of company resources to manage throughout the year. So all of these companies are saving money by reducing the requirements to support the employee costs of payroll deductions. Add to that the requirement for health care support by the company.

Note that Amazon in their ads is featuring employees who have full benefits and support for educational costs. Say what you will about Amazon but they are performing the full employer / employee relationship.

I have no sympathy for the GIG economy companies who are "renting" people and making their money by side stepping all of the requirements you would expect of a company on the stock exchange. Why the state allows this situation to exist is beyond me since the state is losing the tax withholds for all of the support services the state is required to perform. - State Disability, etc. The federal government is losing - Social Security - the state is losing, the employees are losing.
But that gripe is for all of the companies that function in an illegal relationship by hiring illegals, etc and do not perform all of the requirements of an employer.

5 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 9, 2019 at 10:02 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Just like to point out that the current crop of presidential hopefuls are promising free everything. If gig employers are not providing the taxes that support the government handouts then the government is in a heap of trouble. Out-go requires a bank of income. Just like your own home budget.

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 10, 2019 at 7:27 am

They were protesting against the $90,000,000 to defeat AB5.

There are a lot of people out there that the only job they can get is Uber.

There are (were) labor laws in place that have basically been lobbied around.

You say there are other jobs? Not without a degree at $60,000 a year for U.C. Santa Cruz.

Maybe it is time for socialism. We can end up like Venezuela and who's fault would it be? Think about it.

5 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2019 at 9:47 am

“ We can end up like Venezuela and who's fault would it be?”

Definitely the public schools’. Only the profoundly ignorant would consider socialism, after the tens of millions dead from it in the twentieth century.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 10, 2019 at 3:48 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

There are ads out for Amazon with full company benefits. Maybe some of the Uber's should go over and apply. The bay area is in a full building boom and those buildings need people. Sorry - cannot say there are no jobs in the bay area. The sticker is qualification for the jobs that are out there. Amazon - no qualification other than hard work. US Post Office on Bayshore has a jobs sign out.
Socialism requires an in-flow of money in order to pay money out. Is Crescent Park looking for a free ride?

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2019 at 5:19 pm

OK Boomer, plenty of jobs out there. Just none pay enough, to pay the local rents.

Just sayin'

2 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2019 at 4:40 am

The 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The right of a citizen to peacefully 1) parade and gather or 2) demonstrate support or opposition of public policy or 3) express one's views, is guaranteed by the freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble.

Bill Gurley is a great guy and I'm sure he supports these Uber drivers' right to protest in front of his house. As for why they're protesting there and not somewhere else, the answer's simple: he's got the power to make change.

Drivers are protesting because Uber's system and algorithms optimize to *their* business goals, not those of the drivers. The solution, then, is for some smart entrepreneur to build an algorithm that tells them when to drive and not drive in order to maximize *their* revenues. I rather doubt that Gurley or any investor on Uber's side will do this deed, and therefore it's up to some other money-grubbin' person to take advantage of the opportunity that presents itself. In the meantime, though, I encourage the drivers to do everything within the law that they think will help them economically.

1 person likes this
Posted by Nick
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2019 at 8:39 pm

What's wrong with these people that they can't get a more stable job like the rest of us? Nobody is forcing them to drive for Uber. If you're not the "cream of the crop" and you have to settle for a job like this, whose fault is that?

4 people like this
Posted by Marie Antoinette
a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2019 at 12:46 am

@ Nick

Let them eat cake.

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