Lyft holding out on thousands in payments to immigrant drivers, advocates say

Advocates say dozens of Chicago-area Lyft drivers who are working through the immigration process have stopped being paid by ride-hailing giant, which blames tax filing errors.

The Illinois Independent Drivers Guild says there are about 40 drivers in the Chicago area who have earned money — in some cases thousands of dollars — that has been withheld because Lyft says it received a "no match" letter from the IRS. That means their individual tax ID numbers don’t match records in the federal system.

But the issue is unique to Lyft, which allows workers with individual tax ID numbers and temporary licenses to drive, unlike its competitor Uber, which requires drivers to have a permanent license for at least a year, according to Lenny Sanchez, director of the guild representing ride-hailing drivers.

Sanchez called Lyft’s withholding "nothing short of atrocious."

"This is a community that is very vulnerable," Sanchez said at a press conference at the group’s Park Ridge office Friday. "These are immigrants coming here pursuing the American dream, doing honest work, and they deserve their honest pay."

A Lyft spokesperson said the problem is drivers submitted information that doesn’t matching IRS records. The company is pointing drivers to their website for help, available in English, Spanish and other languages.

"Lyft takes these concerns very seriously and is committed to resolving them expeditiously," a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement. "We are aware of drivers facing a payment issue due to submitting tax information to our third party payment processor that does not match IRS records."


Driver Rogelio Vazquez said with about $7,500 of his Lyft earnings in limbo, he couldn’t keep up with payments on the car he bought to supplement the income from his landscaping business and moonlighting in the local professional wrestling circuit. The car was repossessed two weeks ago.

Vazquez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1980, said the IRS told him there was nothing wrong with the tax information he submitted. He and other drivers haven’t been able to get through to Lyft support to correct the issue, he said.

With his credit ruined, he and his wife are now solely relying on her income cleaning homes until the weather warms up and he can get back to landscaping, Vazquez said.

"I really regret signing up for Lyft," Vazquez told reporters through an interpreter.

A proposed ordinance sponsored last year by Little Village Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) aims to increase ride-hailing driver pay while also creating a more transparent appeal process for drivers who have had their accounts deactivated after rider complaints, among other measures.

But that proposal has stalled in the City Council’s Workforce Development Committee — and, as written, it wouldn’t address the problem facing Vazquez and other immigrant drivers.

Sanchez said he hopes to see amendments to the proposed ordinance to protect drivers working through the immigration system.

"I would love to see language included to protect these workers from this ever happening again," he said.