Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, an organization that represents taxi and ride-hail drivers, called the efforts by Lyft and Uber “a slap in the face,” especially since the companies “are going to go public on the sweat of the drivers.”
The issue is galling to many drivers because the public offerings of Uber and Lyft are set to mint a new class of billionaires out of an elite group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors. Uber is estimated to go public at a valuation of as much as $120 billion, and one of its founders, Travis Kalanick, has already become a billionaire by selling some of his company stock to private investors. Lyft, which is likely to unveil its initial public offering prospectus on Friday, was last valued in the private market at just over $15 billion.
Drivers, who have long been at the heart of the ride-hailing business, have made attempts to change their status with Uber and Lyft so that they can be classified as full-time employees. Becoming full-time employees would also give them access to health care benefits and other perks.
But the companies have successfully beaten back these efforts. In California, Uber and Lyft have fended off lawsuits that aimed to win employee status for drivers. In New York, Lyft recently sued to overturn new legislation that would give drivers a minimum hourly wage of about $17.
Uber and Lyft declined to comment on drivers’ reception of the programs. The cash programs were earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Uber has tried to improve its relationship with drivers over the past 18 months, allowing them to accept tips for the first time starting in 2017. In October, Uber asked in a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission to be allowed to grant equity to drivers even though they are not employees. Uber did not hear back from the S.E.C., one of the people said.
Ultimately, the cash programs would not give drivers the opportunity to earn money from stock in the same way that employees do, said Mary Russell, a lawyer and founder of Stock Option Counsel, a firm that consults with employees on stock compensation.
“It doesn’t seem like a meaningful change to their compensation, in my view,” she said. “It’s more a thank-you for the past and a one-time event.”