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UW study: Widespread racial bias in Uber, Lyft driver terminations

But 80% of terminated Uber and Lyft drivers reinstated after receiving union representation under nation’s first just-cause protections


The following is from the Drivers Union:

SEATTLE (Aug. 7, 2023) — A study released last week by the University of Washington Information School has found racial bias in Uber and Lyft processes for terminating drivers, arbitrary and excessive terminations of drivers, and a widespread failure to inform drivers of the reason for their termination or conduct meaningful investigations prior to termination.

However, researchers also found that, under the nation’s first just-cause protections against unfair termination for Uber and Lyft drivers, 80% of terminated drivers were reinstated after receiving culturally competent union representation.

Research consistently finds that unions reduce racial disparities in access to income and benefits. Similarly, this study demonstrates that providing drivers just cause protections and union representation has had a profound impact on combating racial bias in driver termination processes at Uber and Lyft. Notably, it finds that drivers of color are more likely to be terminated for resolvable infractions than their white peers, but also significantly more likely to have their terminations reversed when represented by Drivers Union.

“I was terminated after a drunk passenger assaulted me,” said Anwar Abdella, a full-time Uber driver since 2013. “Without union representation, Uber would have left me jobless, stranded on the side of the road.”

Eighty-three percent of drivers surveyed for the study did not speak English as a first language, highlighting the importance of culturally and linguistically competent services for drivers. While 80 percent of drivers surveyed reported being able to reach a helpful representative at the union-run Driver Resource Center, only 23 percent of those drivers strongly agreed that they could work with Uber and Lyft to resolve unjust terminations.

“This rigorous study reinforces what we hear regularly from Washington’s Uber and Lyft drivers: that drivers routinely lose their livelihoods for arbitrary reasons ,” said Peter Kuel, president of Drivers Union, and a rideshare driver with over 40,000 rides. “We can now point to empirical research that backs up the truth that we observe every day; union representation is the most effective means of combating racial bias and reversing unfair terminations.”

In 2021, the City of Seattle became the first city in the nation to implement “Just Cause” protections against unfair terminations for Uber and Lyft drivers, which were expanded to all of Washington state in 2022. Under the law, drivers can appeal unfair terminations with union representation under a just cause standard – a protection typically only available to employees with a union contract.

The UW study contributes to a growing body of research on terminations in app-based gig work, but is notably the first study to utilize verified deactivation data.

The Drivers Union, an affiliate of Teamsters Local 117, is an association of drivers who work for Uber, Lyft, and other app-based transportation platforms to promotes fairness, justice, and transparency in Washington’s personal transportation industry.

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