Adam Ziemkowski, a staffer from Kshama Sawants office, spoke to the crowd of drivers and union organizers at Wednesdays rally.
Adam Ziemkowski, a staffer from Kshama Sawant's office, spoke to the crowd of drivers and union organizers at Wednesday's rally. Alex Garland

Kim* had been driving for Lyft less than three months before she received a message on Tuesday telling her she had been deactivated. The e-mail informed Kim that her "star rating has been decreased" and that the company "received multiple reports" about her Lyft account. "Due to this feedback, coupled with your current driver rating, your driver account has been deactivated," the e-mail read.

But Kim, who first shared her story at a rally Wednesday morning in support of a city council bill that would allow Uber and Lyft drivers to be represented by unions, doesn't believe her deactivation had anything to do with her customer rating. Kim says she maintained a 4.52 rating (out of five stars) since she started in September and even received a Platinum driver status from Lyft the previous week, which included various perks.

The only thing she thinks changed between last week and this one?

"I was at the Teamsters office," Kim says. "That's the only reason that [Lyft] deactivated me. I'm not stupid."

Kim attended an organizing meeting for drivers at the Teamsters Local 117 office on Monday. By Tuesday at 1:43 p.m., Kim had been deactivated.

Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson told me that drivers' deactivations have nothing to do "with whom they associate or events they attend." She added that Lyft doesn't collect driver or passenger location information when the app is off.

"Our first priority is driver and rider safety," Wilson wrote in an e-mail. "In this case, the driver was off boarded following an incident where she made inappropriate comments to a passenger. After reviewing this incident, as well as the driver's overall feedback and low ratings, our Trust and Safety team determined that permanent deactivation was warranted."

The average driver rating in Seattle, according to messages from Lyft to Kim, was a 4.8.

Kim says she only remembers two incidents in which she said something that resulted in negative feedback from the app, and both were back in October. The first was when a white male passenger in her car told her that her hair was "unkempt" and she needed to comb it. Kim, who is black and wears her hair natural, said she told the passenger that his hair was stringy and she didn't find that cute either. (He then gave her a poor rating.) The second incident Kim recalled was when she denied a passenger a ride because he was being rude.

Lyft said that neither of those incidents matched the description of the event that got Kim deactivated, but the company would not provide more details. When Kim tried locating a person to speak to at Lyft Seattle's operations office—where a Lyft e-mail told her a donation drive would be held this coming Saturday—all she found was an empty storefront. I personally tried to find Lyft's engineering offices, but when I went to the address listed online I couldn't find it (despite wandering the area and asking people at other businesses for help). Lyft has not responded to a voicemail I left seeking the location(s) of its physical offices.

Kim isn't the only app-based driver to claim that an account had been deactivated because of organizing activity. Last year, Will Anderson, a former Uber driver in Seattle, reported that he had been deactivated the morning after attending a meeting with the Teamsters Local 117. (Uber denied those allegations and said Anderson had been deactivated because of his average rating.)

Kim now says she feels violated and disrespected by the technology. Lyft was Kim's main breadwinner as a single mom, and Kim has never been able to speak directly with a human being at Lyft about alleged discrepancies in pay and additional diagnostics software that was downloaded to her phone through Lyft. Now Kim's facing the holiday season without a paycheck. "Their treatment is so humiliating," she told the crowd on Wednesday.

*Kim asked that we only use her first name for privacy reasons.