Hunger strike, public, political support bring New York Taxi Workers Alliance a big win

NEW YORK TAXI Workers Alliance members cheer the win in their long fight over extortionate medallion fees. – NYTWA twitter photo via PAI Photo Service

New York (PAI) — A long and determined campaign, capped by a hunger strike and backed by public and political support, brought 25,000-member New York Taxi Workers Alliance a big win on Nov. 9.

Yielding to the pressure, the city agreed to restructure the debts the drivers owe to the Big Apple for the city-issued “medallions”—legal licenses—they need to drive.

The total cost of the medallions will be $170,000 over the life of that license, payable at the rate of $800 monthly. If the driver still can’t repay bank loans for the medallion, the city becomes the backstop.

Due to a variety of factors, especially extortionate demands from profiteering lenders who financed the purchases, the costs of those medallions had ranged up to $800,000 each.

That’s an impossible sum to repay, with interest, for the Yellow and Green Cab drivers, mostly workers of color, led by many South Asians. who ply the streets seeking cab fares.

The Taxi Drivers Alliance is loosely affiliated with the AFL-CIO, as are other groups of exploited low-wage workers of color, such as the National Domestic Workers Alliance. As a result it drew strong support from city and state unions, state lawmakers, and even members of Congress.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) took the lead, sponsoring hearings and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., bellowed his support while addressing a picket line and the hunger strikers.

The result was victory.

“BREAKING NEWS: 2 words: WE WON!!!! +3: THANK YOU NYC!!!! We have won a city-backed guarantee! Loans will be restructured to max $170K! No more debt beyond our lifetime. No more risk of losing homes. DRIVER POWER! UNION POWER! #EndCabbieDebt” the Taxi Workers Alliance trumpeted in the first of a series of tweets.

“Thank you… To the son-in-law of a cab driver who stood with us & for us and showered us with hope and encouragement. @SenSchumer forever driver family. To the legend @ZohranKMamdani who camped out w us and brought a whole people’s army. The working class will be alright.

“Although the hunger strike was difficult, the outpouring of support @NYTWA co-founder Javid Tariq witnessed made it much less difficult, he said. It warmed his heart to be able to feed his fellow drivers at a recent celebration.

“Our earliest champions: @AOC”—Ocasio-Cortez—”may belong to the world but she’s ours. TY for bringing light to our darkness and the 2+ years of work behind the scenes. @RitchieTorres, first as Councilman then as Congressman never gave up on the moral duty to do right by drivers.”

“Brothers and sisters, finally the sun is coming for a new day for all of the drivers,” driver Richard Chow told a New York news website serving the city’s large immigrant community.

A petition the alliance posted on explained how the taxi drivers got into the financial trouble.

“NYC issued the medallions, set the opening bid at auctions, and wrote direct letters and made TV ads encouraging mostly immigrant drivers to buy medallions as a safe investment. City officials even lied to drivers, publicizing the medallion price to be higher than they knew it to be,” it said. The market value of each medallion is really just over $100,000.

“Unaware of the lies, drivers bought these medallions with the understanding that through the city’s continued regulation of the industry and our own hard work, we could have a chance at a decent living. But the city then allowed in Uber and Lyft with no regulation, crashing the medallion price the city itself inflated.

“By then, the city had already made $850 million from the medallion sales. Drivers, meanwhile, were left in debt and poverty.  Banks…made millions from fees and terms banned in other lending. Now, the banks are threatening foreclosures instead of working out real debt restructuring with us.

“Banks and hedge funds need to stop medallion foreclosures and come to terms over real debt forgiveness. The City of New York and our local and national leaders need to bring the banks and hedge funds to the table and help bring about the solution,” the petition concluded. Under the pressure, that’s what the city Taxi and Limousine Commission did.



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