About 30 gig economy employees, mostly Uber drivers, on Nov. 6 protested outside the Atherton home of Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist and investor in the ride-hailing company.
Protesters gathered at 11 a.m. at the intersection of Prado Secoya Street and Elena Avenue, across the street from Sacred Heart Schools, before marching to Gurley's house on Prado Secoya Street, calling out chants including "Hey, hey, ho, ho, billionaires have got to go" while several Atherton police officers looked on.
Event organizers said the protest was aimed at improving working conditions and wages for gig economy workers, who are now treated as independent contractors, not employees. This treatment limits their ability to organize into unions or receive medical benefits through work, they said.
Gig economy labor is defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as a single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.
"The gig economy is hyper-exploitative," said Vanessa Bain, a Menlo Park resident who delivers for Instacart and Uber Eats. "With plummeting (pay) rates, we work more for increasingly less. There is nothing flexible about working 60-plus hours a week and still not being able to make ends meet."
The protest, one of three statewide scheduled for Wednesday by Gig Workers Rising and the Mobile Workers Alliance, coincided with the day that Uber investors could cash out on their investments in the company, which had its initial public offering in May, according to Business Insider.
The statewide day of action, called Deactivate Uber Billionaires, aimed to take a stand against Uber executives and investors who have made millions of dollars while drivers struggle to make ends meet, according to a write-up on the Facebook event page.
"November 6th is the day early Uber investors are free to cash out for the first time since the company went public on the stock market in May," the post said. "These investors stand to make billions of dollars while drivers are working countless hours to put food on their table."
After marching to Gurley's home, protesting workers spoke about wanting better pay, benefits and more transparency from gig economy companies, then read and left behind an outsized letter written on poster board at the front driveway gate of the house. The letter stated: "Dear Bill Gurley, As you enjoy your mansion, drivers are sleeping in their cars. Congrats on getting rich off our poverty! Sincerely, Drivers."
"We're here to remind people of the true costs of profits," said Carlos Ramos, who lives in Bakersfield, but drives for Uber in the Bay Area. "(Ride-hailing) drivers are not protected by the same working rights (as employees), are working 70 hours a week and sleeping in their cars."
In October, gig economy companies Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Postmates and Instacart pledged $90 million for a ballot initiative to ensure they would be exempt from California Assembly Bill 5 and be able to list their workers as independent contractors, not employees. AB 5 aims would categorize independent contractors — such as ride-hailing service drivers and delivery service workers — as employees.
"This has enraged drivers, who worked hard to organize and ensure AB 5 passed so that they could be recognized as employees and receive a livable wage and benefits," stated a Nov. 5 press release from Deactivate Uber Billionaires organizers.
The two other planned protests took place outside of Google Ventures' San Francisco office in the Embarcadero and outside of Uber chairman and co-founder Garrett Camp's Los Angeles home.
Gurley is a general partner at Benchmark, a venture capital firm in Menlo Park. Benchmark led an $11 million investment round in 2011 for Uber, according to Business Insider. Gurley left his position on Uber's board of directors in 2017, but has continued to support Uber.