2022 was a historic year for union mobilizations in the United States, and this year intends to continue with the demands. The most recent mobilization was carried out by Uber and Lyft drivers in New York, where more than 90% of the taxi drivers in the city are immigrants. Many of the Big Apple taxi drivers do not speak much English, and that makes them vulnerable to financial deals they may not fully understand. Many of these drivers are clear about the working conditions for those who live from applications like Lyft and Uber: they are getting worse in a context of inflation that complicate their viability.
One of the founding members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Bhairavi Desai, organized a taxi drivers' strike at Laguardia airport to pressure companies to improve conditions for drivers.
They demand an outright increase in operating costs, a stop to unfair driver deactivations, more money for out-of-town rides, and 85% of their fare or the full rate from the Taxi & Limousine Commission.
HistĂłrica derrota de Hochul le pone fin al primer latino que querĂa ser lĂder de la corte en Nueva York
Last December, drivers achieved a significant milestone with the first increase in 10 years. This decision was made by the taxi commission, the municipal agency that regulates this kind of activity, but Uber filed a lawsuit and managed to stop the increase.
In an exclusive conversation with LPO near Laguardia airport, the union leader was confident that they will be able to pressure Uber and Lyft to achieve the requested improvements.
"It is a historic strike. It is the third strike since December and we will continue until we reach our demands. Today, thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers refuse to pick up passengers. On a normal Sunday, this place is full of cars waiting for their race, but today it is full of people tired of exploitation. We are fed up with lies and bad salaries. They manipulate us," she said.
What are the demands you are asking Uber and Lyft?
We have very specific demands. The first one is the increase to compensate for inflation and they owe it to us since December 2019. Every day, these two companies keep a million dollars that belong to the drivers.
We also demand that every trip must pay drivers the fair price. For rides outside New York City, instead of receiving the corresponding cost, Uber and Lyft benefit themselves and make drivers subsidiaries.
Are Uber's profits increasing and the conditions to be a driver with them being more precarious?
Uber and Lyft have had 50 times more profits in the pandemic years. It is awful. A study from the University of California shows how of the 5 million trips from 2019 to 2022, April 2020 was the month in which these companies had the highest commissions. It coincided with the rise of the pandemic. It is shameful. They have been profiting from misfortune.
Instead of rewarding the heroes who worked in the midst of the pandemic, serving health workers, the most exposed, what they have done is enrich themselves. Drivers had to pay for the cleaning and adaptation of their cars while the rest of the world stayed at home.
The claim also occurs in a context of high inflation that continues to make an improvement in income more necessary.
Uber and Lyft have also treated drivers the same way with the inflation crisis. As Americans suffered with the rising cost of living, Uber even went to court on Christmas night to block an increase.
It was on December 9, Uber went to court to stop the increase that was to be applied on December 19. Meanwhile, between October and December, the company made 8.6 billion profit. A profit record, 40 times more than the previous year. In fact, at the heart of the inflation crisis during the summer, when 80% of the drivers said they do not have enough money to pay for food, drivers had to choose between buying food or fuel. Those same months, Uber's profits rose 70%.
Another thing you claim is how easy they fire drivers.
They fire workers overnight, without any notice. You start your day getting ready to go to work and all you see is a symbol like an alert on your phone: it means you can't drive anymore. They do not even have the decency to tell drivers to get ready. They are not given the right to appeal or present evidence to defend themselves. It is basically a death sentence for a worker without any form or probation. They strip you of everything at dawn. Lyft and Uber act as judge, jury and executioner, abandoning drivers to defend themselves however they can.
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