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Driving change in Denver

In a platform rideshare landscape dominated by two competitors–Lyft and Uber–a fresh take on a trusted idea is gaining traction: The Drivers Cooperative.

The Drivers Co-op, established in New York City and launching this spring in Denver, is turning over the power–and the profits–to those who drive both the value and the vehicles: the workers behind the wheel.

The development of this idea can’t come soon enough. Since launching a little over a decade ago, the two major investor-owned ride-hailing firms have come under criticism for taking advantage of their workforce–85,000 in New York City alone, almost all of whom are immigrants–by pushing the costs of vehicle purchase, insurance and maintenance on to the drivers while pocketing a commission of up to 40 percent per trip. Drivers are considered independent contractors, and therefore ineligible for minimum wages, benefits, or employment rights.

Enter the worker cooperative model and support from the Cooperative Development Foundation, which has helped to address similar challenges in other industries such as home care. As in other important service sectors, a large share of drivers are immigrants. In the case of The Drivers Co-op in Colorado, workers hail from Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Most are relying on gig-work to supplement other streams of income and have found that engaging with the traditional investor-owned rideshare platforms is precarious. Driver accounts can be shut off without warning, reason, or recourse. The Drivers Co-op is shifting that paradigm.

“Being part of a cooperative has transformed my experience as a driver,” says Mohammed Ishag, member-driver and board president. “It’s provided a sense of ownership and control over my work, which I never had with other platform companies. The camaraderie among drivers and the collective decision-making process are significant improvements.”

Building on the success of The Drivers Co-op in New York City, the Denver-based worker co-op is supported by the Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center (RMEOC), which provides education, technical consulting and development services to existing businesses seeking to convert to employee ownership or groups interested in developing a worker cooperative.

The Drivers Co-op owns an app with more than 6,000 drivers in New York. According to Minsun Ji, executive director of RMEOC, early use of the worker-owned app has yielded pay increases of up to 15-20 percent for drivers there and a reduction in driver expenses by up to $1,500/month, since allied workers have been able to receive lower-interest car loans from supportive credit unions. Riders in Denver will be able to access the app soon.

“As a new startup cooperative, receiving a contract from other community organizations to transport people is our priority,” Minsun adds. “We see supporting communities in need (e.g., seniors, refugees, people with disabilities) through transportation as one of our most important missions.”

The Cooperative Development Foundation is pleased to support the creation and sharing of both printed manuals and digital training modules to help rideshare drivers understand how to build and maintain a worker-owned platform cooperative.

“Cooperative education will help build a stronger management system internally,” Minsun Ji says, “preventing potential conflicts among members that stem from misunderstandings about cooperatives or lack of understanding about different responsibilities among staff, co-op members and board members.”

CDF’s engagement with this new cooperative does not end at funding. CDF and NCBA CLUSA’s  Cooperative Leaders and Scholars (CLS) cohort met in Denver for the first time in April 2024. The cohort needed transportation between downtown lodging and the meeting site, graciously hosted at CoBank’s headquarters in Greenwood Village. It was the natural, cooperative thing to do to ride with The Drivers Co-op.

“CDF was the very first contract that we ever received, and we are thankful for the solidarity and support that CDF has shown to our Drivers Cooperative-Colorado,” Minsun Ji noted. “Our drivers were excited and proud to provide rides as cooperative members to a community ally like CDF!”

“How better to highlight the Colorado cooperative ecosystem than to visit–and engage with–as many of its cooperatives as possible?” asked Kirstie Boyette, associate director of CDF. “Securing rides from The Drivers Co-op and chatting with the new driver-owners as we traveled between various locations, including other co-ops during our tour day, made the experience even more grounded and personal for the CLS participants.”

It’s personal for the drivers, too. “Professionally, the cooperative has given me a voice in decision-making and a fairer share of the profits,” adds Mohammed Ishag. “Personally, it’s boosted my confidence and sense of belonging within the community. Knowing that I’m part of something larger, where everyone’s contributions are valued, has been incredibly empowering.”

Fellow driver-owner Ahmed Eloumrani agrees. “The co-op changed my experience as a driver; it gave me hope… I feel like I work for my own company compared to working for other organizations,” Ahmed says. “[Those] companies never give you the respect and they never give you the chance, but this cooperative gives me a chance.”

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