Uber threatens to pull out of Minnesota over legislation

A bill making its way through the Minnesota legislature aims to ensure rideshare drivers earn a living wage, but companies like Uber say it could double the cost to customers and prompt the company to stop operating in the state.

The bill has been revised several times over the last few months, with amendments to the current version proposing drivers earn $1.45 per mile for rides starting in the seven county metro. For comparison, Uber says drivers in Seattle make $1.38 per mile, while in New York they make $1.31, both cities with a higher cost of living than Minneapolis.

"Ten years ago when Uber and Lyft came here, they were paying $1.90. Today they’re paying less than half that," said Eid Ali who leads the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association. He estimates he takes home 58 cents for every mile, while Uber makes $3.

Uber said while they have been willing to negotiate with drivers, the current proposal is more than the market will support. The company says if the bill passes with its current language, they may have to scale back operations in the state or leave all together. 

Stephen Cooper represents the coalition of drivers led by Ali. He calls Uber’s bluff.

"They said those same arguments in Seattle," said Cooper. "They said they’ll be leaving town they can’t make it. This was two or three years ago. They’re still there."

Uber said in a statement Tuesday: Since March, we have asked legislators to work with us to pass a bill that raises rates for drivers without doubling the cost for riders. We have worked directly with drivers to negotiate a deal that increases their rates, adds additional insurance and protects their status as independent contractors. Unfortunately, that is not what we see in the bills going through the legislature.

The bill’s author, Sen. Omar Fateh (DFL-Minneapolis) said in a statement: Fair labor standards for rideshare drivers is a matter of basic worker rights. This legislation is the result of months of work from thousands of drivers who organized to bring their story to the Capitol. Minnesotans trust these drivers to safely drive them and their loved ones every day. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t have the same rights and protections as other workers. Rep. Hodan Hassan and I have worked with our leadership and stakeholders to arrive at the latest version of this important bill. I look forward to seeing it pass off the House floor on Wednesday, and eagerly await the chance to bring the bill to the Senate in the coming days.

Drivers were also asking for more insurance coverage, specifically for non-traffic related injuries such as being assaulted by a passenger. Uber claims it offered to provide the additional insurance but that legislators removed it from the current version of the bill.

The Minnesota House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday. A vote in the Senate is expected to follow.