Home Local Ride-share drivers protest at O’Hare Tuesday to demand better wages, bathroom access and end to ‘unfair’ deactivations

Ride-share drivers protest at O’Hare Tuesday to demand better wages, bathroom access and end to ‘unfair’ deactivations

by staff

As thousands of travelers across the country and in Chicago saw their holiday plans upended by transportation troubles, ride-share workers took a stand Tuesday night by refusing to take rides from O’Hare International Airport.

Their goal was to “draw attention to the inhumane conditions drivers operate under,” according to a news release, and demand app companies provide drivers a living wage, improvements in safety measures, better bathroom access, an end to deactivations without review, quality health care benefits and the right to form a union.


Plainfield resident Emilio Ugalde, 45, said he had been driving for Uber for over 3 years — and completed up to 5,170 trips — when he claims his account was unfairly deactivated in November.

Because he’s paraplegic, Ugalde uses a special hand device to operate the gas and brake pedals in his car, but he said a passenger misconstrued this and accused him of lewd acts. He said he provided Uber with doctors’ notes and proof of his disability but he has remained banned from the app.


“I feel discriminated against,” he said in Spanish. “My reputation, my dignity as a human being. Because I’m a human being. I have feelings. I have a family. I have a wife. I have kids to provide for.”

After an accident at home in 2017 caused the loss of use and feeling in his legs and from the waist down, Ugalde decided he had to reinvent himself and began driving for ride-share companies to continue providing for his family. “I figured it out,” he said.

“This is one of the most unfair deactivations that I know of. And the apps don’t care,” said Lenny Sanchez as he took a microphone after Ugalde shared his story. Sanchez is a leader and member of Justice for App Workers and the Illinois Independent Drivers Guild.

On Tuesday, Ugalde joined his peers, who he called his “brothers and sisters,” in a 2-hour shutdown of services at O’Hare that began at 7 p.m. Uber and Lyft drivers braved frigid temperatures in the ride-share waiting lot of the airport to protest, urging others to do the same.

“We’re demanding better pay, better treatment and more safety for us drivers,” Ugalde said.

“If we don’t get what we want now, shut it down!” yelled Steven Everett, 34, from the Independent Drivers Guild, his voice cutting through a chorus of honks and beeps from protesters driving around the lot. Others walked around holding coffee cups, trying to stay warm.

Only 20 minutes into the protest, there was already a price surge for Ubers near O’Hare, yet most cars in the lot were not moving, Everett told the Tribune. “I’m excited — it almost makes me want to cry,” he said.

Lyft released a statement in response to the coalition’s protest and demands. “We care deeply about the concerns of our drivers. The Lyft platform continues to provide drivers with the ability to earn on their own terms,” the statement reads. “As Lyft recently announced in its third quarter 2022 earnings call, U.S. drivers earned on average north of $35 per utilized hour including tips and bonuses in Q3.


“We recently expanded our cashback rewards program to help drivers save at the pump, we launched a new cohort of our Driver Advisory Council to hear from drivers directly, and because we know transparency and choice are critical, recently, we launched upfront pay in Chicago and across the country, which shows drivers ride information and what they’ll earn before accepting a ride.”

Wilman Irribarren holds up a printout of a ride-share drive made previously by an unknown driver, and the income earned for the drive, during a protest on Dec. 27, 2022.

Sanchez said the Justice for App Workers coalition is calling for a proposed ordinance that would create a resource center for drivers to appeal “unfair” deactivations. If drivers are found to have been unfairly deactivated, they would be reinstated and compensated for lost wages.

Sanchez called it a “common-sense” proposal, saying its passage “would accomplish many things.”



Drivers who complete at least 10% of their work — their rides and deliveries — in, within or out of Chicago would be protected under the proposal. The resource center, Sanchez added, would be funded by a 10 cent tax that passengers on Uber and Lyft would pay per ride.

“We are going to pass it, and this is going to give us momentum,” said Sanchez as he held on to a microphone to speak to fellow drivers.

In August, 20,000 ride-share drivers and delivery workers from Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Grubhub working in Illinois announced they were joining the national movement led by Justice for App Workers.

Uber driver David Crane was at that August news conference. He was also at the protest Tuesday — and he said things hadn’t changed. But he’s holding out hope that the workers’ actions will have an impact.


“We want to send a clear message that we have more power than they think we do,” he said


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