‘This pay rise here, we need it badly’: Taxi staff calls for pay rise, worker protection

City taxi drivers are asking for a raise, and hundreds of them packed a virtual Zoom rally on Wednesday to be heard. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance organized angry drivers, flanked by advocates and elected officials, who said a pay raise and other worker protections should have happened long ago.

The group called on the City Taxi and Limousine Commission to increase per-mile and per-minute rates for app-app drivers, as well as limit their lease costs to raise wages to $25 per hour after fees. On the side of the yellow and green taxi drivers, the group is demanding that taximeter rates, which have not risen in a decade, be increased to reach the same hourly wage of $25.

The demands come months after the TLC adjusted rates for hired app drivers by 5.3% to reflect the rise in prices of goods and services. The city first set a minimum wage of $17.22 per hour in 2018.

“Since February 2019, NYC has imposed three pay increases for Uber drivers, including a 5.3% increase in March 2022,” said Uber spokesman Freddi Goldstein. “[For-hire vehicle] NYC drivers have the only minimum wage in the state with an annual rise in the cost of living linked to inflation and now earn $31.74 an hour, while cab drivers haven’t seen an increase since 2012.

But according to the NYTWA, drivers working for ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft walk away with far less money than their mandatory minimum wage might suggest, taking into account fuel and maintenance costs. In reality, the group said, the average driver still earns nearly $17 an hour.

“Driving was once a path to middle-class life,” said Bhairavi Desai, NYTWA executive director. “Today it’s a one-way ticket to debt and poverty. We want to solve that once and for all.”

A TLC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mouhamadou Aliyu, a taxi driver for 21 years and speaking at the online event on Wednesday, said the pay increase was necessary to make ends meet.

“This raise here, we really need it,” Aliyu said. “Because we’re going to work, we haven’t even been able to put food on the table. We are working really hard because we are not able to take anything home.”

The NYTWA called on the city council to enact “Just Cause” protections against “deactivations” or layoffs by Uber and Lyft, similar to those for fast food workers in 2020.

“Deactivation is the fancy term on Wall Street for laying off workers,” Desai said. “They do it overnight without notice, for no reason, without a real right to appeal.”

Driver Tino Napo said he was in the process of upgrading to a luxury vehicle when he was suddenly “deactivated” by Uber, leaving him with no income and two cars to pay on. He said an Uber representative told him the “deactivation” was the result of an argument with a passenger who refused to wear a mask in June 2020, and that it could not be undone.

“When they fire me like that, I feel so bad,” Napo said. “And I can tell you, I have to say, thank God I didn’t kill myself. Because when I look at my child and my wife, I say, ‘What are you going to do?’ I was the only one who fed my child.”

City councilor Christopher Marte supported the drivers during Wednesday’s virtual rally and pledged to fight against “deactivations” like Napo’s and for higher pay.

“Right now, the cost of living is just going up and your wages are staying the same, and that’s unreasonable for anyone who is a car driver with one of these providers,” he said.

The group said it plans to meet again in person on the steps of City Hall on Aug. 3 at 2 p.m.

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