Uber drivers protested the company outside its San Francisco headquarters today, and their complaint was simple: They feel Uber is picking their pockets.
"They tricked us!" shouted Ramzi Reguii, an Uber driver and one of the lead speakers at the protest.
The crowd of about 40 or so drivers held signs reading "Uber Exploitation" and "Uber workers are blue collar."
At issue is an email Uber sent to drivers (known as "partners," in Uber parlance) in January. Uber warned it planned to decrease fares for riders by 20 percent to boost sales during the slow winter months. To offset this, the company also promised to reduce its own commission from 15 percent to 5 percent in order to help shoulder the decreased profits drivers may face.
In the email to its partners, the company promised "this is a test we are running during a traditionally slow period in January and possibly into February and March," noting "depending on the results, we can best determine how long to do the promotion."
In April, Uber boosted its commission up to 20 percent, but did not adjust fares, creating a double whammy Reguii called "ridiculous."
The drivers contend Uber is stringing them along, telling them fare cuts are only temporary only to later renege on its promises.
"Right now it's very hard to make money working at Uber," a driver, Eugene Vinnikov, told us at the protest. He quit his job to work for Uber full-time, favoring the flexible work hours. But he told us the lowered fares means he must work excess work hours, which eat away at the flexibility that made Uber so attractive in the first place.
For its part, Uber was out at the protest listening to concerns. A team of Uber employees mingled with the crowd, listening to drivers' complaints and explaining reasons behind certain decisions.
Uber San Francisco General Manager Ilya Abyzov stood toe to toe with drivers, coffee in hand, and deep shadows under his eyes.
He said he understands where the drivers are coming from.
"These drivers are running a business," Abyzov told the Guardian. Uber has to make sure its drivers are as well cared for as their customers, he said. "Our business doesn't exist without both sides."
Lane Kasselman, an Uber spokesperson, also noted Uber is offering a $1 trip incentive through the summer to offset driver costs.
But most of that is too little, too late for some drivers.
"I love Uber, we all do," one driver shouted at Abyzov, just a foot from his face. "But now I have to work sixteen hours to make what I was making in a day before."
Abyzov simply stood there, listening.