City of Philadelphia sues Uber on eve of driver revolt

Philadelphia Uber driver consults her phone during a shift. (Jessica Kourkounis for WHYY)

Philadelphia Uber driver consults her phone during a shift. (Jessica Kourkounis for WHYY)

This article originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

There will be a lot to talk about in your Uber Wednesday — if you can get one.

The ride-hail giant is making its debut on the New York Stock Exchange with a hotly anticipated initial public offering (IPO) on Thursday that some predict could be the largest in recent history

But before the San Francisco company can pull in the $9 billion it aims to raise, it will have to confront a few challenges, including a fresh lawsuit filed by the City of Philadelphia over back taxes it allegedly owes.  

City lawyers want to audit Uber to find out whether the company, which has been valued at $90 billion, owes the city business income, receipts and wage taxes, according to the suit filed Tuesday in the Court of Common Pleas.

The other challenge is internal — and more existential. Uber’s business model is built on a cheap, ever-ready supply of drivers.  But as the company prepares to go public, drivers in cities around the world, including Philly, want to draw attention to labor practices that they say should be regulated.

Several hundred Philly drivers are expected to turn out Wednesday at noon for a rally to demand greater job security, higher wages and a cap on the ride-hailing companies’ commissions to guarantee that drivers receive 80 to 85% of the fare. They plan to gather at Greenlight Hub in Southwest Philadelphia and demonstrate until 1 p.m.

While it is unclear how many will shut off their apps, at least 300 to 400 drivers are expected to show up at noon for a press conference and rally that will last an hour. Rallies will take place in cities around the world while drivers in New York will strike.

“What we want is a strong bridge between the drivers and Uber,” said Ali Razak of the Philadelphia Limousine Association, one of the groups behind the demonstration.

That looks like better pay, more efforts to protect riders, and more transparency.

“Uber has two important factors they try to ignore,” Razak said. “One is the driver, one is the rider. Uber tries not to be responsible for any.”

Both PLA and the Philadelphia Drivers Union are urging legislators to take action on a list of demands that include the 80/20 fare split, $20 minimum wage after expenses, and protection from being deactivated.

“Our legislators have the power to legislate every single one of those demands across the state,” said driver Angela Vogel who is helping to organize the rally through the Philadelphia Drivers Union.

Organized drivers are also asking local voters to shoot down a ballot question on May 21 that would approve the introduction of public safety enforcement officers, who’d have the power to enforce traffic laws in the city.

The officers would crack down on illegally parked or stopped cars. The goal of the new class of officers is to reduce congestion and make city streets safer.

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