I started working for Uber before Christmas last year. All I wanted for the holidays was a good job, and that's exactly what Uber was advertising with billboards saying I could make $1,500 a week.
But instead I ended up struggling to survive on poverty pay. Some weeks I earned as little as a penny after Uber took car leasing fees and other expenses out of my paycheck.
I applied for unemployment after I quit driving for Uber. The New York state Department of Labor determined that I was an employee of the company and eligible for benefits. Because Uber tells drivers we are independent contractors, many of us don't even know that we have the right to apply for unemployment benefits.
I'm sharing my story so that no one else ends up in my situation.
When I contacted Uber to sign up as a driver, Uber referred me to a leasing company that told me I could lease a vehicle for $450 a week with no prior credit. That seemed like a lot of money but I figured I could afford it if I earned $1,500 a week like Uber advertised.
I made a decent living picking up fares around New York City when I first started driving for Uber. But then Uber began to flood the streets with more drivers so that every time I logged into the app my screen was filled with little black icons representing other drivers all around me vying for the same fares.Uber took the gas card fees, insurance and leasing payments straight out of my paycheck and I only received the money that was left over to use for my own expenses and for car maintenance.
Then Uber slashed fares for passengers in January. It seems like a great deal for New Yorkers to get dirt cheap rides around the city, but for me it meant that I was making less money for each ride I did. Uber continued to take its commission, and my leasing fees stayed the same, so now I had to work more hours to cover my expenses.
When I was unable to work because of bad weather or illness, my leasing fees continued to accrue and eventually almost everything I earned was going toward paying the car lease and other expenses deducted from my check.
I often made below minimum wage. My pay stub for the week of Jan. 4, shows that I made less than $6.50 per hour after working 49 hours and logging 45 fares. Another pay stub for the week of Feb. 29 shows that I made less than $72 for 33 hours of work — that's about $2.20 per hour. My pay stub from the week of June 27 shows that I made just a penny in income after completing 15 rides.
Eventually my car was repossessed because I couldn't make the payments. I read the news about the lawsuit that two other former Uber drivers had filed along with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and I reached out for help. Once I had support with my case from NYTWA and from Brooklyn Legal Services, the state Department of Labor determined that I, like the other two former Uber drivers, was an employee of Uber.
Uber tells drivers how to behave with customers and sets fare rates. But Uber doesn't provide drivers with a guaranteed wage or contribute to unemployment funds, Medicare or Social Security. Most Uber drivers in New York, like me, are people of color. Many are immigrants. Uber's business model is another obstacle to getting our fair shot at the American dream.
Now I am finally receiving unemployment benefits and trying to dig myself out of the poverty that I fell into driving for Uber. At least I can afford bus fare to go to job interviews.
All I want this year is for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to put working people first and not deregulate taxi services to allow Uber to expand its model of poverty pay.