$30 an hour? Los Angeles studies new minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers

Workers and labor organizers across the United States have been fighting for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage for years. But some Los Angeles leaders have set their sights even higher when it comes to ride-share drivers — twice as high, to be exact.

The City Council voted Tuesday to study how to implement and enforce a baseline wage for the Southern California metropolis’s tens of thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers, “with the goal of a $30 minimum,” The Los Angeles Times reported.

City Council President Herb Wesson first called for the $30 minimum for rideshare drivers last week, explaining in a news release that his proposal “would require ridesharing companies to compensate drivers with a $15 per hour wage, and also require the companies to provide at least $15 per hour for operating expenses like gas, insurance, and basic wear-and-tear on the driver’s vehicle.”

A representative for Lyft said the company supports a statewide “guaranteed wage floor,” the Times reported, while an Uber spokesperson said Uber supports “commitments on driver earnings” but worries the Los Angeles study is “based on potentially false assumptions that will fundamentally bias its conclusions.”

Wesson’s proposal would not cover taxi drivers, City News Service reported.

“The flexibility that a ridesharing gig provides should not serve as an excuse for short-changing these drivers,” Wesson said in a statement. “Earning less than $10 per hour in Los Angeles simply won’t cut it. If these companies want to operate in Los Angeles, they need to compensate their workers fairly.”

The local move comes as state lawmakers in California have targeted Uber, Lyft and other companies that rely on so-called gig work, passing Assembly Bill 5 to push companies to provide more benefits to workers.

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Wesson cited city Department of Transportation data saying that last year alone roughly 250,000 rideshare drivers made almost 9 million trips in Los Angeles.

He also pointed out that an “Economic Policy Institute study found that the average W-2 employee equivalent wage for Uber drivers after expenses, fees, and taxes is $9.21 an hour.”

Several other council members backed Wesson’s $30 wage proposal, according to his news release announcing the plan.

While only a study was approved Tuesday, “more than 100 drivers packed council chambers to support the proposal, which is in the initial stages of discussion,” LAist reports.

“These companies are able to do basically whatever it is they want,” said James Hicks, a rideshare driver and organizer, according to LAist. “They can make us accept fees of 60 cents per mile, and if we don’t accept that ultimatum, then we’re basically fired from the platform. There’s no regulation, and that needs to change.”

Wesson noted that Los Angeles was one of the earliest cities to adopt a $15 minimum wage.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.