On Tuesday, myself and other Uber and Lyft drivers in New York City staged the biggest protest yet in the worker uprising playing out in the gig economy. This publication, paying too little attention to what our protest was about and too much to the form it took, called for our largely immigrant Guild members to be arrested and have our licenses, our livelihoods taken away if we do it again. All because we came together to organize with our union using what we have — our vehicles — to get the attention that should have been given to our concerns in the first place.
We drivers keep this city moving and for one day we logged off the apps to fight for our livelihoods. If you were inconvenienced, sorry, not sorry.
It’s not that we wanted to do this. We are scraping by on maybe minimum wage. One in five of us qualify for food stamps and more than 70% of us have less than $1,000 in savings. We could not afford to lose a day’s wages to shut off our apps and drive a protest procession over the Brooklyn Bridge, up to Gracie Mansion, and over to Uber’s headquarters. But thousands of us did. Thousands of us banded together to tell New York City and the big app companies that we will not be ignored. Here’s why.
Uber and Lyft are destroying our livelihoods and New York City isn’t lifting a finger to stop them. They are kicking drivers off the apps, playing favorites with who can log on, and blocking drivers from working where and when they want, all in a blatant scheme to avoid paying drivers the required wage we won earlier this year.
The city must stand up and fight back.
The app companies are making an example of us. We are a threat to their bottom line. We led a years-long campaign to win the nation’s first minimum pay rate protection for app-based drivers at nearly $28 per hour, a rate that is expected to put an additional $737 million per year in drivers’ pockets. That’s over half a billion dollars a year that we are redirecting out of app-company coffers and keeping here in New York City.
We set a high standard that other cities and states are seeking to emulate, including Seattle, which proposed a minimum wage this week.
The drivers organizing in California have the app companies running scared as well, with companies throwing millions of dollars into a campaign to overturn the state’s new law, which is expected to reclassify many contractors as employees. The apps want to scare drivers away from the idea of being classified as employees. So it is a convenient time for the app companies to make an example of New York City drivers by destroying the ability to work when we want and where we want — and blaming the changes on the minimum wage protection we fought so hard to win.
The City Council and Mayor de Blasio cannot let them get away with this.
There is no reason why workers cannot have the protection of a minimum pay rate and also maintain the ability to work where and when we want. The apps are setting up a false choice. So New York City has two choices.
One: Stand down and let the apps make an example of us, destroying our livelihoods and damaging efforts to protect driver pay all across the country.
Two: Prove them wrong. Demonstrate that we can protect worker pay without destroying flexibility for 80,000 New Yorkers, the largest group of non-governmental workers in our city. Just last month Mayor de Blasio wrote, “Multi-billion dollar corporations cannot go unchecked — not when it comes at the expense of people’s livelihoods and the public interest.”
For people like us, change has only ever come when we take to the streets. The real-estate developers probably killed the pied-a-terre tax with a phone call. The millionaires and billionaires never seem to have any difficulty being heard. But it is not like that for us. As poor immigrants, we far too often find ourselves targeted for punitive policies or simply ignored.
The attack on our livelihood is ongoing. We may have to disrupt your commute again one day soon or cause you some other headaches in the course of your day. But don’t blame us. Blame the system. We would rather be working.
Bah is a driver for Uber, Lyft and Juno and a steward of the Independent Drivers Guild, a Machinists Union affiliate that represents and advocates for more than 80,000 app-based drivers in New York City.