Continuing Momentum from Uber Cap Victory, City Council Considers New Package of Bills Based on NYTWA Demands:
Cap Leasing Expenses for Uber Drivers & Stop Predatory Lending
Financial Relief for Struggling Yellow Taxi Owner-Drivers
Health & Wellness Fund
Office of Inclusion & Racial Justice Training for Drivers
Protections from wage theft, financial education & support centers
(New York, NY) Today at 10AM, the New York City Council will hold a hearing on a package of bills that come directly from NYTWA's policy platform. NYTWA is the only union uniting Uber and yellow cab drivers and it is because of our unity campaign that we were able to win the historic cap on new for-hire-vehicles in New York City and the minimum wage for app-dispatched drivers. Yellow cab and Uber drivers united for 25 actions in six months. Members from both of these sectors will be testifying at today's hearing about the proposed legislation including on proposed bills to stop predatory lending in the for-hire sector just like NYTWA previously won in the yellow cab sector and to support struggling yellow cab owner-drivers. NYTWA will submit proposed amendments to the draft bills today as well.
"The cap we won last month gave drivers hope for the first time, but the crisis is far from over," said NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai."The bills being heard today could be a starting point, especially for owner-drivers in need of immediate relief and could put an end to the obscene predatory lending Uber and other app drivers face. The real change will only come once these bills are implemented through Taxi and Limousine regulation so the City Council should act on them immediately."
NYTWA members first submitted our policy proposals last April, calling for comprehensive legislation and rulemaking including a cap on new for-hire vehicles, an end to predatory leasing in the for-hire sector, a health and wellness fund for drivers in all sectors, and financial help for struggling owner-drivers. Shortly thereafter NYTWA submitted our Civil Rights and Racial Justice Platform with proposals to address race-based refusals and train drivers, who are also often victims of discrimination, on racial justice issues. On August 8, City Council passed a historic bill capping new for-hire vehicles for the first time in any city in America, and created a path toward a minimum wage guarantee for app-based drivers. On the same day, the Council introduced a new package of bills that addressed many of NYTWA's additional demands.
The complete text of each bill is available online, including the following:
Int. 1070 (Moya): Leasing, rental and conditional purchase of for hire vehicles
Int. 1069 (Levine): Addressing the problem of medallion owner debt
Int. 304 (Rodriguez): Create taskforce to study medallion taxicab values
Int. 1052 (Speaker): Health (and other) benefits for taxi and FHV drivers
Int. 1079 (Richards): Office of Inclusion within the NYC TLC
Int. 1062 (Grodenchik): Risk of loss with respect to digital payments in the taxi and for-hire vehicle industries
Int. 1096 (Diaz): Require HV FHVs to provide info on charges not registered with TLC
Int. 1068 (Levin): Financial education for taxi and FHV drivers and Int. 1081 (Salamanca): Driver assistance centers
END PREDATORY LEASING IN FHV SECTOR
Int. 1070 (Moya): Leasing, rental and conditional purchase of for hire vehicles
In July, three NYTWA Uber driver members won employee status for the purpose of unemployment insurance for the first time in New York. One of those Uber drivers, Jeffrey Shepherd qualified for unemployment because he brought home as little a penny in income after working full time when all of his money went toward a predatory leasing agreement sanctioned by Uber, with payments taken straight from his Uber app leaving nothing for his living expenses. It took several years for Jeffrey to dig himself out of the debt Uber pushed him into. Unfortunately, his situation was not unique.
In April, NYTWA Member Abraham Lobe testified at a Taxi and Limousine Commission hearing about how a predatory lease-to-own agreement from another 'Uber leasing partner' Lincoln MKT pushed him to homelessness. Abraham lost the car he used to drive for Uber and is now a yellow cab lease driver. Abraham is among the NYTWA members testifying at today's hearing.
"We need to stop predatory lending now so no other driver ends suffered from poverty and homelessness because of a bad leasing company," said NYTWA member Abraham Lobe. "When the leasing company failed to file the proper paperwork with the Taxi and Limousine Commission, I couldn't drive the car anymore. I was left without income and unable to pay my bills. The company billed me even for when I couldn't drive the car due to their own negligence. They billed me for summonses they were responsible for and for summonses for the previous driver of the vehicle. I paid over $78,000 for the car but they refused to give me the title. This is what Uber's leasing partners do to drivers."
Click here to read Abraham Lobe's complete testimony.
Other NYTWA Uber driver members testifying at today's hearing about predatory leasing agreements and Int. 1070 include:
Md S Islam entered into a lease to purchase agreement with Tower. The contract was for $369 in weekly lease for up to 186 weeks, plus a $1,000 down payment. He paid $69,634 for a 2014 Toyota Camry with 5,000 miles.
Bahi Antaole leased a car from American Leasing Company at $452 per week for up to 186 weeks. He paid $84,072 for a Toyota Sienna.
Salifou Halirou leased from American Leasing Company, paying $425 per week for up to 182 weeks and $825 down payment. He paid $78,175 also for a Toyota Sienna.
Lamine Bah paid $425 per week for up to 186 weeks, totaling $79,050 for a Toyota Sienna, also to American Leasing.
Starting in 2014, across the city, companies bought cars at bulk and entered into third-party agreements with Uber to have the lease deducted directly out of driver incomes from the company.
The predatory lending practices rampant in the sector are a result of two factors: the oversaturation of vehicles and lack of regulation over this sector. In their quest to flood the streets, companies such as Uber promised drivers bonanza earnings on one hand and low-cost car leases on the other. Uber agreed to settle charges with the Federal Trade Commission for $20 million over false advertising on how much drivers could earn working for Uber and how they could lease cars even with bad credit.
NYTWA's proposals for Uber and other FHV drivers are modeled around what our union previously won in the yellow cab sector for drivers.
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR STRUGGLING YELLOW CAB OWNER-DRIVERS
There are two proposed bills to address the financial crisis faced by yellow cab owner drivers.
Nicanor Ochisor who took his own life in March 2018 was nearing retirement after splitting shifts with his wife for three decades. A Grandfather in his sixties, he saw no prospects of retiring with dignity, but instead, the twilight years of his life in poverty after he'd served the city for over 30 years behind the wheel. Two months later, Kenny Chow, took his own life. Kenny's last medallion mortgage payment had bounced. After losing his job in the jewelry industry, he entered the taxi business, using all of his savings and borrowed money to purchase a medallion to buy his job security. As the industry took an economic downturn, Kenny found it impossible to keep up with operating expenses, let alone living expenses, such as college tuition and healthcare for his family. The stories of Nicanor and Kenny reflect the two realities confronting owner-drivers across this industry. For every Nicanor and Kenny fighting desperation, Int 1069 and Int 304 can build the path to providing real material support.
Owner-driver expenses average $5,500 to $9,000 per month. And unlike FHVs, yellow cabs must be retired after six years, be brand new when first hacked up, and be limited to a model approved by the TLC.
Owner-drivers who lease to a second shift driver have also traditionally charged less than garages or agents. Today, the average $90 lease per shift totals about $28,000 per year. An owner-driver with the above expenses would have to gross (after the MTA tax, tolls and surcharge), $65,477 per year, or $1,300 per week over 50 weeks worked, just to break even with their operating expenses to avoid bankruptcy or foreclosure. To earn income so they and their family can survive, they would need to book another $1,300 per week, or average $344 per shift, minus shift expenses. Given fixed expenses and the downturn in ridership, it's been impossible for drivers to survive.
Meanwhile, there has not been consistent or industry-wide cooperation among lenders to lower interest rates or extend loan periods to alleviate some of the monthly burdens. Int. 1069 and Int. 304 are first steps in empowering the city to help alleviate debt and prevent foreclosures and bankruptcies.
HEALTH AND WELLNESS FUND FOR DRIVERS IN ALL SECTORS
In 2012, NYTWA organized for and won a vote by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to establish a benefits fund for taxi drivers. The first of its kind, the financing for the Fund was to come from a deduction of 6 cents from every fare. In 2013, NYTWA and our partners won the administration of the Fund after a public Request for Proposals process. Taxi companies financed a lawsuit and the court struck down the fund down on the grounds that such it required council legislation to empower the TLC's rulemaking.
Over a ten-year period, NYTWA organized services and events for free comprehensive screenings for 10,000 drivers. NYTWA's first health needs assessment in 2001 found 78% of the drivers were uninsured. A 2008-2009 study conducted by then NYC Councilman Eric Gioia found drivers to be uninsured at double the rate of fellow New Yorkers -52% of drivers reported having no coverage. Of taxi drivers who had both a doctor's visit and a stay in the hospital within the last twelve months of the survey-a group particularly in need of insurance and prescription drugs-41% were without insurance.
OFFICE OF INCLUSION & RACIAL JUSTICE TRAINING FOR DRIVERS
Race-based and other bias-based refusals and equitable 5-borough service, both inter-borough and intra-borough, have plagued this industry for decades. In July, after meetings with several Council Members, including Councilman Richards, NYTWA submitted a 9-point Civil Rights Initiative. Int 1079 already legislates around a number of the initiatives, including peer to peer program, recruitment of drivers from underrepresented and underserved communities, public reporting and trainings. In issuing our CRI, we asked the Council to allow us as a workforce to be contributors to transforming the inequities, and not be alienated from discussions of justice and fairness in our city.
Throughout the past twenty years, as we as an organization have sought to address these systemic issues, we were met mostly with punitive measures. In 2011, following our support of the chartering of the green cab sector as a market response to the economic underpinnings of why yellow cabs restricted to street hails do not cruise in neighborhoods with still nascent street hail clusters, we were met with massive opposition from within the industry. But in the public dialogue, it's drivers who remain scrutinized and even blamed for service failures, not just for individual acts of bias. Int 1079 allows drivers a voice and gives drivers that chance to fairly partner and when applicable, even lead on these issues.
The Office must also act as a resource for drivers who are largely people of color and majority Muslim or Sikh, subject to bias both due to race and religion. The bias can lead to verbal harassment or assault on the job, as well as complaints without grounds to the TLC which affect a driver's ability to keep their living. The demoralization from being subject to such racism on a daily basis, and the isolation from a job like driving, also lead to high rates of stress and often depression among drivers. We have sought mental health services for members traumatized from hate crimes, as well as those who reached a breaking point from the constant daily alienation. The Office of Inclusion should also be tasked with being a resource for drivers.
CHARGES AND DIGITAL PAYMENTS IN TAXI AND FHV SECTORS
Int. 1062 and Int. 1096 speak to basic economic fairness in an industry where the workers have borne all of the risks over the past almost four decades. Being forced to lose income over chargebacks, when drivers are not the merchant account holders with access to concessions from the credit card processor, is simply unfair. Having just one entity - the vendor - as opposed to the medallion owner, agent and / or broker, will also more easily allow for enforcement.
Int. 1096 mandates transparency which is critical to stopping wage theft. A May 2017 report by the Economic Policy Institute found 2.4 million workers in the 10 most populous states in the country suffered minimum wage violations - the most common form of wage theft for employees - a collective loss of $8 billion annually.
The transparency aimed at protecting drivers must also extend to public disclosures by the High Volume App Companies on policies and frequency of deactivation and all documents which cover deactivation and earnings policies, including agreements and contracts with organizations funded by the companies, including entities they assign as driver representatives. Int 1096 can further ensure that the TLC is empowered with full prosecutorial powers and require reporting both to assess progress and effectiveness, as well as to determine resources necessary for the TLC's Driver Protection Unit.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION FOR DRIVERS AND DRIVER ASSISTANCE CENTERS
Intros 1068 and 1081 are efforts on the part of the Council to ensure drivers are armed with financial literacy and mental health resources so they may be empowered to make their best decisions and find help when it is needed. Further, corporations and the regulators that wield so much control over drivers' economic realities can be better held accountable.