Uber and Lyft drivers, with signs on their vehicles supporting better wages, cross the Brooklyn Bridge in a caravan of about 25 vehicles, Wednesday, May 8, 2019 in New York. The protests arrive just ahead of Uber
Uber and Lyft drivers, with signs on their vehicles supporting better wages, cross the Brooklyn Bridge in a caravan of about 25 vehicles, Wednesday, May 8, 2019 in New York. The protests arrive just ahead of Uber's initial public stock offering, which is planned for Friday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
PHOTO: Mark Lennihan/AP
Now playing
01:52
Uber drivers strike ahead of IPO
Screens display the Uber Technologies Inc. logo on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) during the company
Screens display the Uber Technologies Inc. logo on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) during the company's IPO in New York, U.S., May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
PHOTO: Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Now playing
02:56
Uber opens below IPO price in market debut
An Uber banner is displayed on the facade of the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, May 10.
An Uber banner is displayed on the facade of the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, May 10.
PHOTO: Ian Berry/CNN
Now playing
02:49
Uber investor: Lyft is definitely a challenger
Now playing
02:58
Pinterest CEO: Markets reward companies that grow value over time
CNN Business
CNN Business' Julia Chatterley speaks with Casper CEO Phillip Krim about the company's IPO plans and profitability.
Now playing
02:16
Casper CEO: IPO market is 'very robust'
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 31:  A Lyft driver places the Amp on his dashboard on January 31, 2017 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Lyft)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 31: A Lyft driver places the Amp on his dashboard on January 31, 2017 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Lyft)
PHOTO: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Lyft
Now playing
03:32
Self-driving cars are coming. But Lyft co-founder says he'll need more drivers
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
03:30
Pinterest CEO: Our goal is to get you offline
Now playing
01:47
Here's how Airbnb went from air mattresses to rental empire
Now playing
02:29
Uber CEO hopes you don't own a car in 10 years
PHOTO: Lyft
Now playing
02:55
Lyft files for IPO
Now playing
00:00
Lyft founder: Our goal is to eliminate car ownership
Now playing
00:59
Uber CEO on fixing its workplace culture problem
Now playing
01:12
Here's how Lyft became the 'friendly' rideshare app
(CNN Business) —  

Drivers in more than a dozen cities plan to strike on Wednesday ahead of Uber’s highly anticipated Wall Street debut.

The strikes are expected to happen across major US cities, as well as parts of the United Kingdom, Australia and South America. The action kicked off in London at 7 a.m. local time and will last until 4 p.m.

Participating drivers say they intend to send a message to Uber and its rivals: They want livable incomes, job security and regulated fares, among other demands.

In San Diego and Los Angeles, drivers are slated to cease working for 24 hours. In Atlanta, workers plan to log off ride-hail apps for 12 hours. And in New York City, there is a two-hour strike planned from 7 am ET to 9 am ET, which are busy commuting hours.

In addition to powering off their apps, drivers will hold rallies held in strategic places, such as outside local Uber offices.

The collective action comes on the heels of a March strike in several California cities over recent pay cuts, which took place before Lyft (LYFT) went public. That was organized by Rideshare Drivers United, a group that advocates for Los Angeles-based workers.

The same group planted the seed for Wednesday’s protest, and many more local worker groups have announced similar strikes in solidarity. It is expected to be the biggest internationally coordinated effort against the ride-hailing companies to date.

Why drivers are striking

Drivers are pushing for better treatment and improved conditions, but the specific demands vary by organizing group. For Rideshare Drivers United, they include having an elected driver representative added to the boards of Uber and Lyft, a 10% commission cap on driver earnings, introducing an hourly minimum wage similar to New York City’s, and a transparent and speedy appeals process for when drivers are de-activated. (Those are just a few of the desired protections, according to a driver bill of rights posted on Rideshare Drivers United’s website.)

Both Uber and Lyft have built their businesses on the backs of drivers. Like some other gig-economy companies, the two have long argued their drivers are independent contractors. That status means workers don’t get the same rights as employees, such as a minimum wage, overtime, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, paid sick leave or on-the-job expenses. Both companies have stated that their businesses would be “adversely affected” if drivers were classified as employees instead of contractors.

Meanwhile, the competition between the two, as well as smaller companies, has meant engaging in pricing wars. Uber and Lyft are bleeding money, and how much drivers make is the biggest cost they can control.

As tokens of goodwill, the companies have offered drivers who meet certain thresholds cash bonuses ahead of going public. But that hasn’t been enough to appease the broader pool of workers.

“With the IPO, Uber’s corporate owners are set to make billions, all while drivers are left in poverty and go bankrupt,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, one of the organizations calling for drivers to strike, in a statement.

According to a recent study from Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, which spent two years investigating the working conditions of 40 Uber drivers in the D.C. area, 33% took on debt that resulted from driving for Uber.

Another paper, released Tuesday by the Economic Policy Institute, found that Uber drivers earn the equivalent of $9.21 in hourly wages after factoring in commissions, fees and vehicle expenses as well as health insurance and other expenses.

Why strikes are happening now

The protests have been purposefully planned to take place just ahead of Uber’s expected public-trading debut on Friday — one of the biggest moments in the company’s 10-year history.

Uber has become a household name, and the most valuable privately held startup in the United States, after raising unprecedented amounts of venture capital. It embraced a growth-at-all-cost mindset, even when that meant questionably ethical means, including dodging regulators.

After cofounder and CEO Travis Kalanick was pushed out of the company in June 2017 following a series of public relations crises, the company’s board of directors tapped Dara Khosrowshahi, then head of Expedia, to course correct and take the company public. Now, Khosrowshahi will be beholden to Wall Street’s pressures to build a sustainable business. One major variable he and the company will continue to grapple with on that path: its drivers.

While drivers have tried to formally unionize, independent contractors aren’t covered by the same organizing protections as employees when it comes to labor laws.

Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, told CNN Business that the strikes will be an interesting test of the strength of driver groups. “Are they actually representing the majority of the drivers?” he said. “As the freelance worker collectives evolve, they’ll need to come up with ways of inducing participation by offering compensation.”

What it could mean for Uber

The company’s ability to attract and retain drivers will continue to be important if it wants to keep customers happy with fast pickup times.

However, while Uber has worked to improve relations with drivers, the company stressed to investors in its S-1 that it “cannot assure our pricing model or strategies will be successful in attracting consumers and drivers.”

Sundararajan said he doesn’t expect that the strike ahead of the IPO will diminish investor demand. Most investors, he suggests, are already aware of the ongoing issues between Uber and its drivers.

However the issue could worsen after Uber investors, and executives, convert their rich-on-paper status to rich-in-the-real-world when the company goes public. Workers will continue to face an uncertain future, while Wall Street is sure to closely scrutinize driver costs.

For now, it’s unclear how many drivers will take part in the strikes, which are largely being planned and called for by local driver community and labor groups. Uber alone counted 3.9 million drivers around the world at the end of last year. What is clear is that this could be the largest driver protest in the United States yet, and a sign of what lies ahead for the company.