When Immigrants Drive the City
Host dialogue will be in italics and Reporters dialogue will be in bold
Link highlighted for Music and clips
JG = Julian Guerrero CP = Carlos Perez
MA: Mohammad Ali Awan, yellow cab lease driver Host: Lea Ramirez
Anonymous Driver: What's happening in this industry, that's what I've observed in my 20 years of life working in New York City, is it is a completely biased system against taxi drivers and the reason behind this is all the news station knows that 99% of drivers are immigrants in this industry. And city knows very well, everybody is recording there in the Taxi and Limousine Commission knows very well who has what, what kind of status they have. And that’s why they are abusing them, they are using them, by putting new regulations every day.
Host: Welcome to the Working Class Heroes Podcast, I am your host, Leah Ramirez, and this is episode 2.
Host: In episode one, Carlos and Julian reported on the crisis in the New York City Taxi Industry. They told us about what taxi drivers consider a war over the future of the industry. This is a war between Taxi drivers and app companies like Uber and Lyft. Immigrant communities are on the forefront of this war making up a majority of the driver workforce. On October 1st of 2018, another immigrant driver committed suicide.
Host: Fausto Luna, was the first Uber driver to commit suicide following the suicides of several black and yellow car drivers. Luna was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and an Uber driver since 2013.
New York City Taxi drivers haven’t always been immigrants but beginning in the 1980’s, the taxi labor force dramatically shifted from a largely native born workforce to one where less than 10% are native born. Even though New York City has always had a large immigrant community, they have largely been seen by the city’s elite as a community to exploit, scapegoat or use and abuse for their own selfish gains. In this episode, Carlos and Julian are reporting back on the challenges these immigrant Taxi drivers face in their fight against Uber, Lyft, and the TLC.
CP: We stepped out of the train on 86th and Lex. at midnight. This normally busy commercial area was dead quiet at this time of night. We walked 4 blocks and came to a diner on york avenue.
JG: We stepped into the diner and we took a booth at the back by one of the large windows facing the street. We had chosen this diner because it was right by a taxi relief station, which are hard to come by in the city. The driver that we’re meeting, Mohammed Ali, was actually part of episode 1. We heard him speak about the medallion and his conditions driving as a lease driver. We had met ali at 250 Broadway where the nyc taxi alliance was organizing a lobbying effort to put pressure on the city council to take some action around the plight of yellow cab drivers in the face of Uber’s growth. Ali was in that room with us where that driver let out that rant over his working conditions. Even though Ali drives long hours in his yellow cab, he still made it a priority to come to city council and let them know what they’ve been dealing with. We had been sitting in the restaurant for about 10 minutes when Ali’s car pulled up into the rest area. We packed our stuff and we stepped out.
CP: We greeted Ali, thanked him for his time and he invited us inside of his Taxi cab. Me and julian stepped in and we began the interview.
“Um, its 12:42, uh, May 8th, and i’m speaking to, what’s your name?”
MA: Mohammed Ali Awan
CP: Right, Thank you, um, so Mohammed, I'm just going to ask. I’m just going to start by asking you, um, how did you get into driving a taxi?
MA: I started because I entered in the United States illegally so I was illegal alien for a very long time so I was doing all of this kind of dirty job and all kind of odd jobs and as soon as I became legal, so I didn't have any qualifications or anything else or any other skills particular skills so I can do anything else. So my friend suggested me to learn to driving and start driving yellow cab because back then, I'm talking about 21 years ago, they needed drivers. Nobody wanted to drive yellow cabs, specifically in the daytime. Everybody want… all the drivers were available to drive night shifts.
CP: Ali told us how he came to the United states as well as what his reasons for immigrating to the US.
MA: As I said, I jumped off from the boat, literally, no no i'm not joking, I used to work on a ship, so when I was like a slave sailor on a ship. You know the greek shipping company, back then they used to hire peoples from third world countries and give them like 20 cents per hour and like basically, you were very cheap labor and back at home the situation was so bad. Like there wasn't-- plus like I don't have any formal education. I'm a high school runaway so there wasn't much there. So I just went over there and I paid to get that slavery job.
I did 5 years, about four ships. I did five and a half years, more than that and finally, last ship came to America. From Cuba and then from all over and then it finally came to Cuba and from Cuba we all know it was going to America. And then we came to America and i decided, “okay this is it.” So i jumped off from the ship and took one person with me, older person. All i had was 27 dollars, an album of my old friends and family album and that’s it and then i entered in america, like you know, promised land.
CP: The Taxi and Limousine Commission shows that less than 10% of the driver workforce is born in the U.S. Immigrants are decisive majorities in every sector of taxis with the top four countries being represented from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and the Dominican Republic. But why is that?
Ali’s story is pretty dramatic and its common among many New York City taxi drivers. And what brought them to this job can be traced to similar conditions among many of them. It’s a combination of both worsening conditions at home and great opportunity abroad that brings many immigrants into the US.
This is why most people in NYC get into a cab in New York City do so with an immigrant driver. In fact, over the past generation, taxi drivers have been portrayed in the popular imagination as immigrants - largely, as south asian immigrants. This matches the current reality of those hailing cabs in New York City.
JG: But back at the beginning of the taxi industry, in the early 1900’s, most drivers were Jewish, Italian, and Irish along with other US-born white drivers. So movies and popular representations of these taxi drivers at the time reflected that reality. James Cagney, an Irish actor, for example, starred in the 1932 movie, Taxi, as a cab driver which created a once famous scene of his use of yiddish to speak to a jewish immigrant.
Music: Victor Dance Orchestra, The Great One Step
JG: Other movies, like High Gear and They Met in a Taxi have white actors portraying taxi drivers.
These demographics would change just slightly in the 60’s and 70’s, with the influx of Puerto Rican and Black taxi drivers , who are now driving alongside second and third generation Irish, Jewish, Italian drivers. But to make the jump from that to a 95% immigrant workforce in the 90’s, two big changes had to occur. The first, was a big change in immigration policy, thanks to the Civil rights movement striking a blow against racist immigrant quotas,
Up until 1965, US immigration policy was heavily biased in favor of Europeans, particularly northern and western Europeans. Tens of thousands of immigrant visas were reserved for northern and western Europeans, while southern and eastern Europeans, and especially Asians, and Africans and Middle Easterners had very little chance to immigrate to the United States. They were discriminated against on the basis for their national origins and there was a feeling across the country and in congress that it was time to end that discriminatory practice so the 1965 immigration act abolished what had been a national origin quota system that had been in place for more than 40 years. People from all countries
JG: So let me break it down for you - The Hart-Cellar Act of 1965, as its officially known, was a victory won out of the civil rights movement along with the 1964 civil rights act, and the 1965 voting rights act as these were efforts to break down racial segregation in state and federal policies.
It took about a decade for the US to feel the impact of this change and as research by the Daily Conversation shows:
In 1980, when congress began granting more visas for people from the western hemisphere, the number of states where mexico was the top country of origin doubled in a decade becoming the dominant foreign born population in the entire country. And in 1990, America began to look like the diverse country we live in today. Mexico was tops in eighteen states. Dominicans were the largest group coming to NY and South Korea and Southeast Asian nations were the leading countries of origins in 7 states. In the year 2000 census the number of mexican born immigrants surpassed 9 million, it’s also notable that India was the top country of origin in three states.
JG: That’s why we see the diversity in the Taxi driver workforce of today. But that doesn’t explain the 57% drop out of US-born drivers all together from the industry.
CP: That brings us to the second big change. The major shift between US-born drivers and immigrant driver’s doesn’t start in the Taxi Industry until the 1980’s when the TLC reshaped the NYC Taxi industry.
Before 1979, drivers operated in what was essentially the familiar employer-employee relationship, complete with guaranteed wages, benefits, and union representation. But in 1979 the TLC introduced a leasing system which ended that. This changed the working relationship between drivers and owners overnight. Through the 1980’s, Garage and Fleet Owners pressured enough of their drivers into the leasing system. This transition mainly benefitted those garage and large fleet owners because they could put the risks of operating taxis onto the drivers who were now contractors.
MA: You know cuz they just like give us this title of independent contractor, we are considered as independent contractor and as independent contractor, okay like, we don't have any responsibility, or we don't have to give you any benefit. Like me, I don't have like a medical insurance for 8 years past 8 years because I can't afford one. And plus they are asking for too much money so I’m living without any medical. And i’m still paying the penalties because I can’t afford medical insurance so I have to pay the penalties. Like sounds very ridiculous.
CP: As independent contractors, they also lost the collective bargaining strength that gave taxi drivers union representation, benefits, and control over their own labor.
JG: The drop in pay and the radical changes to the driver’s working conditions discouraged many US-born drivers from staying in the industry but in their places was a growing number of immigrant workers. If you combine these changes with an influx of new immigrants making their way to the US, you get the dramatic changes to the make-up of the average NYC taxi driver.
By the 1980’s significant numbers of Russian Jews leaving the Soviet Union took to driving a cab and it wasn’t until the 90’s that South Asians became a dominant bloc of taxi drivers. As Russell Graham Gao Hodges states in the Social History of the NYC taxi cab driver:
“In the mid-1990’s, the number of Indian, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis applying for taxi licenses in NYC soared from 10 percent in 1984 to 43 percent in 1991.”
These immigration trends would continue.And by the mid 2000’s 8.5% of taxi drivers were of African/Haitian origins. More there’s recently been a large segment of East Asian drivers concentrated largely in the App taxi sector.
And that’s some of the reasons we went from Irish cabbie, Matt Nolan, to Dopinder in Deadpool:
MA: When I was an illegal alien I was working in Upstate New York at a gas station and there was the hertz station so the hertz guy like told me when the cars come to drop off you can park them and stuff like that for him. So I used to park the cars and circle around, sometimes around the gas station that's all I knew and I thought I knew driving but in reality I didn’t know. So when I came to the city I asked my friend, I ask like, “you know, I want to get a driving license.” He said “do you know how to drive?” he said, I said, “I think I know how to drive,” so he took me driving and he asked me, “can you do a broken U-turn?” and I said, “what's a broken u-turn?” he had a surprise look on his face and he said, “okay let's do the parallel parking,” and then I said, “what's parallel parking?” And he said like, can i curse? “F*** man you don't know how to drive! You can only drive straight that's all you can do!” I thought I knew how to drive, he said, “you don't know s***,” but I already had the appointment for the driving test so I went for the test and of course I failed first time and I was so upset. After a few days I tried again with my other friend. So, but I still don't know how I got my license because I went for the test and still I just believe in my mind the guy was blind, you know, who gave me the license because he was wearing these dark glasses and he was standing very far position he said straight drive this and that and at the end when he said, “you passed” and I was so surprised I said, “really?” and that's how I got my license.
Many of the poor South Asian migrants arriving to the US didn’t mind the leasing system as much as U.S. born drivers who had worked under the commission system. To immigrants it made no difference which system they worked under as long as they made enough money to send back home.
Over a couple of decades of this dynamic, driving a taxi is done almost exclusively by immigrant labor. This shift in demographics marked a change in the relationship between the New York City government and the taxi drivers workforce as well as the public’s view of the everyday taxi driver.
JG: New York City in the 1970’s was a tough fucking place. And it was at the beginning of a violent transition from a city of small manufacturing and exports to a service and finance dominated economy. The city looked radically different.
1970’s New York City was being put through a fiscal crisis and business elites were using the crisis to roll back all the gains working class new yorkers had won since World War Two. Thousands of city union workers were laid off, social services plummeted and Federal Government refused to bail out the city.
Hundreds of thousand of people, particularly white new yorkers, left the dilapidated city to the suburbs in Long Island. 10% of the city’s population, nearly a million people, had left through the 70’s.
But the city rebounded with the growth of the service economy and along with it, a significant influx of immigrant workers, that helped stabilize the city’s economy and propelled the city’s population past the 8 million mark.
CP: But this sort of superficial respect for immigrants in the city contradicts the growing xenophobia in the country.
TRUMP’S ANTI IMMIGRANT RHETORIC:
Thousands of criminal aliens are pouring into our country. They’re not people, these are animals - our country will be overrun, these are animals coming into our country, they’re not people, they’re animals, animals, what was the name? crowd response: Animals!
CP: This puzzling contradiction, and the growth of xenophobic hate, has roots in NYC.
Sorry to Bother You clip of Glover:
“ Let me give you a tip, you want to make some money here, use your white voice. My white voice? I’m not talking about Will Smith white, like this young blood - Heyy Mr Kramer, this is Langston, from Regal View”
CP: That’s Danny Glover in Sorry to Bother You, and in 1999, Danny Glover was pissed. At the time, Glover was frustrated trying to hail a cab while standing on Broadway. He was frustrated because no yellow cabs were stopping for him. He made a complaint to the TLC about cab drivers refusing to pick him up because he is a black man. The mayor of NYC at the time, jumped on this opportunity to make a splash for his US Senate run. He created Operation Refusal and explained his proposal at a press conference:
Giuliani: “So one of the things that we’re going to add to this to get everyone’s attention. It’s something that we’re legally entitled to do and it’s perfectly appropriate time to do it. And that is, that we’re going to take your cab, at that point suspend your hack license. Since now you have a suspended hack license and cannot drive your cab, we’ll take your cab away from you. Just think of the practical reality of it. We’re suspending the license of the taxi driver on the spot. So who’s going to drive the cab away? If the taxi driver drove the cab away he would get another summons.”
CP: Operation Refusal did two things. One, it eroded drivers’ due process rights and two turned the public against Taxi drivers under the idea that drivers, largely immigrants, were anti-black. Giuliani’s efforts to place a crosshair on the backs of drivers was supposed to make him come across as tough on racism and willing to take extreme measures to improve quality of life.
As Biju Mathews’s notes in his book, Taxi! Cabs and Capitalism In New York City, “On the first day of its implementation, only seven out of more than seven hundred drivers tested were penalized for discrimination - that is, fewer than 1 percent of drivers proved to be ‘racist’”.
Statistically, it is true that drivers disproportionately refuse to pick up up black passengers or to take people to the outer boroughs. But Operation Refusal wasn’t trying to reckon with the geographic reality of a racially segregated city.
Why was he doing this? Because NYC was undergoing a demographic shift. The white flight of the 70’s and 80’s was over and reversed by the 90’s. A trend that continues to this day. It was a cynical use of anti-racism to further his political career which, in turn, created a repressive machine against taxi drivers.
Operation refusal doesn’t exist anymore but it created a framework for policing immigrants. It’s part of the same state repression exists in which today it goes by the name of Broken Windows.
Broken windows is not an actual policy, it is what people consider a policing philosophy. And as a philosophy it is reminiscent of Jim Crow policies and their function to police non-white citizens.
MA: This cop stopped me and he write me about 5 tickets. 5 big tickets summons, you know, so I came out from the car just to very politely I said “what are you doing? what I do so wrong?” and he said, get back into your car or I'm going to arrest you. You know, so at that time something shrank inside me and I, just like I said, I just like cried. What did I do wrong? I did nothing wrong and I feel very unjustified and very angry and all the things and that incident
I sit there and I cried because I was very young, and I have this whole emotions, the idea of like, soon as I got my citizenship and I received the letter and I believed pursuing the happiness. So I thought the life would be pursuing the happiness means it's going to be justice, prosperity. Something would be better but in reality when I found out, I'm just a freaking another cow, you know, just to feed the fat government. that's all I felt at that time.
JG: This repression that we were seeing in NYC was happening on a national scale.
In 1994, Bill Clinton, with bipartisan support, passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. This act escalated mass incarceration with provisions such as three strikes laws, federal grants for cities to hire more police, federal prisons, death penalty expansion, enhanced penalties for “smuggling” undocumented immigrants and for reentry after deportation.
A follow up act in 1996 called Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) did away with due process for immigrants and codified the criminalization of immigrant communities. In short, it became easier for the government to detain and deport people and made it harder for immigrants to prove that they have a moral and legal right to remain.
On duty NYPD officer, Patrick Cherry, a detective on the Joint Terrorism Task Force seen berating an Uber Driver. Detective Cherry reportedly upset that the Uber driver had gestured at him to use his blinker while he was parking his car. The tirade captured on video by the Uber passenger: ‘ Ok, OK. Do you understand me? I don’t know what planet you think you’re on right now”’ - The officer slamming the car door. Even appearing to mock the driver’s foreign accent: ‘Stop it with you for ‘for what sir. for what sir. Stop it with that shit. How long have you been in this country?’
CP: This incident between a Joint Terrorism Task Force officer berating an immigrant Uber driver and the growth of islamophobia isn’t accidental. It’s an example of how islamophobia is cultivated and influence by the state repression.
This homegrown repression in NYC was part of a national sentiment towards law and order and part of a political backlash against the victories of the social movements of the 1970’s. This led to the growth of mass incarceration in the US and a war on poor black and brown communities.
Immigrants of color especially black and brown, Arab and Muslims were both racially and religiously profiled as part of George W. Bush’s “War on Terror”. Immigration became a matter of “national security” with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. This resulted in increased surveillance of these communities along with massive increases in detention and deportation.
It wasn’t only Muslim taxi drivers who felt targeted after 9/11. Islamophobes conflated people from all over South Asia as muslims despite their ethnic and religious diversity.
Sikh taxi drivers were often targeted like this:
It’s a good way to make a living in NYC. because I don’t have any other qualifications so its better to drive a yellow taxi, to afford your family. Ravinder Singh is one of many taxi drivers from the city who is south asian. Two of every ten are Sikhs. Sometimes they call us Osama Bin Laden. I think they are ignorant so we don’t want to say anything to them so we close the door and come back. Ravinder says most people confuse Sikhs for muslims because of the turbans. I think it’s misidentification. People don’t recognize that Sikhism is totally different than the Muslim people. Other cab drivers like S. Singh share similar sentiments. Just on the road ‘m driving sometimes you hear bad words. Like Bin Laden or go back to India - like that they speak. - It hurt me, because I’m not part of Osama bin laden - we are a very peaceful people and love this country. We’re making a living here to try to raise our family. Both say dealing with racist remarks just comes with the job.
JG: That was from a news segment covering the Islamophobia Sikh drivers have to deal with in 2016 - 15 years after 9/11.
This anti-immigrant thread runs through Bush, Obama’s and now, Trump’s regime in the form of Immigration Customs and Enforcement, infamously known as “ICE”.
CP: What Bush started with ICE, Obama extended to every corner of the country and Trump has fashioned ICE into a new American Gestapo against immigrants.
One well known case of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and further unleashing of Obama’s created ICE agents is the attempted deportation of taxi driver, Edison Barros.
Barros got into an altercation after a driver almost ran over his dog while he was out walking him. Because of this, Barros was forced to appear in court where ICE took the opportunity to snatch him and throw him in a detention center.
Edison Barros Solidarity Rally:
“Detenido por ICE nos fue muy duro. No saber que el iba volver a la casa. Le pido a la jueza que nos deje con nuestro papa, que nos devuelve nuestro papa. Si se va, no vamos a tener con quien hablar con quien pedir su sengerencias.”
Chanting: “No more Deportations, No More Deportations”
CP: That was Edison’s daughter speaking at a press rally in support of Barros and demanding that he be allowed to fight his deportation in court and allowed to stay.
The scapegoating of immigrants has gone beyond New York City, as Trump is trying to build his own base with white nationalists, by going after all immigrants in the US.
Previous systematic attacks on immigrants, like Operation Refusal, in many ways paved the way for greater anti-immigrant sentiment that is now concentrated in the Trump regime.
Even so-called progressives like Mayor Bill De Blasio embrace Broken windows keeps this thread of repression alive.
DR: Let’s talk about something, when you ran for mayor, one of the things you talked about was ending broken windows policing, you talked about making the city safer in ways that didn’t, um, ramp up the disparities.”
BDB: I want to clarify, I wanted to get away from the policing that existed previously, I wanted to get away from the broken and unconstitutional policy of stop and frisk. I wanted to change the relationship between police and community.
I believe in quality of life policing which is a better phrase than broken windows because broken windows has some understandably troubling associations in people’s mind. Quality of life policing is necessary and I am in favor of that all along.”
CP: But this is the part that matters:
BDB: I think broken windows policing got a bad name in part because it was associated with the Giuliani administration and there’s many reasons to be highly critical of the Giuliani administration. I think in principle is the right principle.”
CP: This superficial change to what is essentially the same policing philosophy broadened into collaboration between police departments and ICE. In New York City, this collaboration is supposed to be limited but ICE still roams the city snatching immigrants from courthouses, and job sites without much challenge from the De Blasio administration.
This is how today mass incarceration and border security became a bipartisan project supposedly based on “national security.”
Because of their immigrant background, taxi drivers have become accustomed to this state repression. They have become the butt of jokes by the public, like Dopinder in Deadpool, and misunderstood charges against Taxi drivers keeps them marginalized while politicians have used them as scapegoats for building their own credibility.
MA: When I came to America, I was an illegal alien. So I was always had like this daydreaming that I will become an American and go to Hollywood and be a great actor, and you know, and this and that and all of this was just dreaming. it’s different once you enter. You start, you’re now rushing for food and shelter and voting and that's it. In my whole family, of course, where we from the entire family so, I’m the richest person in my family, you know, so then I got stuck. So I just... my personal dreams were about that life... I just locked them and throw the key…
JG: Looking back, what Operation Refusal, Broken Windows policies and the ICE crackdown have in common is that they are posed by those in power as the only solution to social tensions. But Danny Glover knew this wasn’t true. After he had complained to the TLC about not getting picked up because he’s black, he decided to meet with taxi drivers directly and sought out a meeting with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
What came out of this collaboration was a full list of proposals put forward to the TLC. They included, as Biju Mathews points out in his book:
That all new drivers be trained by veteran drivers and civil rights activists
That the TLC reckon with transportation redlining practices
That drivers not be penalized for accepting out-of-borough fares at peak time
The TLC, of course, ignored all these suggestions and continued their approach to fighting racism through entrapment, revoking licenses and essentially punishing drivers by taking away their rights to due process.
This isn’t to excuse the pervasiveness of anti-black racism in countries where many of the drivers are from nor their actions in refusing to take fares. But this process allowed drivers to be open, honest and yes, defensive at times, but it revealed a more complicated reality about what it's like to drive in one of the most racially segregated cities.
During the town halls organized between the taxi drivers and Danny Glover, drivers often told stories of how their work forced them to navigate the city through overlapping roads of race and class. The harsh demands of paying for a lease forced many taxi drivers to refuse to pick up fares who they assumed lived in the outer boroughs. Their racism was a reflection of New York City’s refusal to reckon with its history of racial segregation and thus with its unequal system of public transportation. It was more complex than just personal prejudice. It was the result of racist city planning and economic pressures compelling drivers, and surely, with elements of racial prejudice to make the decisions to not pick up black passengers an easy one.
CP: This reality continues and so continues the use of this issue by politicians and corporations to undermine taxi drivers. Uber took advantage of this dynamic to set the stage for their own opportunistic seizure of the taxi industry in 2015.
It has made it difficult for taxi drivers to come together and respond to dramatic changes to their political rights and working conditions.
MA: I started back then there was fleet owners there was like you know demand-supply thing was going on so like, drivers, we used to stand in line for hours and at the end, you just like you don't know if you're going to get cab if you're going to get a job or not. And fleet owners have very high nose and all of these ego problems and all these things that we're going on so they treated us literally like slumdogs or something, very ill-treated and that's what brought a lot of anger between me and a lot of drivers even all through that, they have the upper hand when we were like this you know kind of like Beggars begging for jobs It's up to them and they used to pick with their finger you know favoritism and dispatchers they have their own issues you have to bribe them it's called tip but it's bribery in reality whoever bribes more is going to get the job and so that was back then standing in line and sometimes you stand for a couple of hours then you can go back home empty handed because, “oh I didn't get a job today”.
JG: Being treated like slumdogs and enduring bad working conditions created by the Garage and Fleet owners, naturally creates discontent among taxi drivers. They begin to see themselves as Ali explains:
MA: ..they had a concept of the driver as the cow. You can milk as much as you want, you know, you can just shove your foot in this cow and you can milk as much as you want. So cops used to stop us, the TLC used to have these claws out and whenever they stop you more than you're scared to get robbed or Jack buy some thugs you used to scare from the police and Taxi Limousine Commission inspector they're going to stop you and they never write one ticket they'll write you five or six tickets at a time. So when you go to the judge they will forgive you two tickets so you will feel better but the other four your paying whole month sometime so there was all this unjustified ticketing and everything was there.
JG: It’s a discontent aimed at their bosses but it doesn’t stop there. It gets directed at those who seem to side with the Garage and Fleet owners.
MA: After a while I just got used to the role this is the part of getting robbed by police after all we are here to feed the fat government the purpose of the general public is, you know, we're just born and raised so we can just run this big fat system-- with their big pensions and lavish and extravagant lifestyle, you know it's lobster dinners and wine--that's all we ever here for. And then things like...with the help of the union we got a lot of help and you have taxi worker alliance help to bring this job some dignity
JG: All these obstacles and still Taxi Drivers are organizing together.
Taxi Driver at Protest: Fighting for the driver’s right and today we are standing in front of the Mayor office and in front of the whole city council office right there. They can see from their window, they can hear from us, they can see from us, but still change is not coming. We need to change..the Mayor is right there. The Mayor is listening to us, the Mayor can see us, Mayor can feel us and everything he can feel. The feelings have come for four and five years ago when we started. The situation is getting worse. Financial problem getting worse. Driver is not earning enough. We want a cap. We want a limited cars. And we made so much protest. We went to protest in Albany. We went to protest in city hall. We went to protest in TLC. Nobody hear us until we lose our five brothers. Then they are thinking that change needs to done. Then the Mayor starts talking about change needs to be done. The Governor coming out that change needs to be done. But when!…
CP: This isn’t what happened in 2015, when De Blasio found himself in a losing battle with Uber to cap their growth. He could have called for town halls for Taxi drivers and given them a platform to cut their Uber’s propaganda campaign and to appeal to the public for their support. Instead, De Blasio prioritized his own reputation and gave Uber free reign to implement their strategy to overwhelm the taxi industry.
MA: You know this apps company suddenly show up and they change this whole persona, the whole like predicament is changed now...so that's a bad change.
CP: So can you tell me a little bit more about what you think about all of these Uber drivers and app drivers that are quite frankly flooding the streets now with all of their cars?
MA: Thing is that they're like abide by the law, law of the land law by the books they're doing nothing wrong they're allowed you know a lot of yellow cab drivers when the Uber started we thought we could finally, God send us the way out. Some freedom to us from this Fleet owners and these thugs and this criminals and gangs running this industry we're going to finally I get to have the restriction on the medallion so we can just buy the car and just drive and live with the dignity and so a lot of drivers that migrated a lot of yellow cab drivers thought that's the Promised Land. and I was going to go too. And then Uber did it like they started dropping the price to destroy the whole industry and Uber drivers flooding the street, yes they do, but unemployment is so high in America people find like the job, it’s a job at the end of the day you can have some food on the table so they’re flooding the streets, yes they do, but there are our brothers, you know. They're not doing anything wrong they’re trying to survive just like us.
CP: A unionized Taxi workforce would be a powerful force in New York City. All of taxi drivers make up more than 130,000 workers in total. And the majority of them live in the outer boroughs giving this union potentially outsized political power. Such an organization would be a loud and powerful voice for immigrant communities. They could be crucial in fights to expand immigrants civil and political rights. They would also push the city government to take even stronger stances for immigrant workers.
JG: There are many challenges to the development of unity among taxi drivers. Beyond the legal obstacles and a government hostile to their very existence. Their dispersion among the different sectors of the taxi driver force. These various issues frustrate the creation of a taxi drivers union. Buts what's interesting is the very same factors that make it so hard to organize all the taxi drivers is also could be one of their greatest strengths. A union of the most disenfranchised, exploited and marginalized in New York City. Like the oppressed, and all of its elements, united in organization.
MA: and and for the Yellow Cab I think this is the end of Yellow Cab era eventually it's going to go, the way the things are, it's going to completely die down.
JG: Before the yellow cabs disappear from New York City, immigrant drivers, the drivers who are never featured alongside their cabs in all the imagery of New York City, are joining together to address these issues.
Taxi Driver at Protest: It is still unknown reason. What is the unknown reason? The City Council know it it. The Governor know it, the Mayor know it and you guys can bare witness to the world that the driver is dying with the financial crisis. Each of the driver has a family, children, schoolboy children, they are members they are forty..fifty years. They run this city. Millions of people ride in their car. We lose five brothers in five months in a row. Give me the justice! When is the justice going to be served? When are people going to wakeup? When does City council listen to us? When is the Mayor going to be listening to us? Do they want more of our brothers take their lives because of their financial policy? What is the financial policy? It’s Wall Street financial policy. But, 180,000 drivers are under poverty. They can not bring their food on their table. They cannot feed their children. There are drivers who sleep on the sidewalk. There is a driver sleeping in the taxi. There is a driver sleeping in the uber car, seventeen, eighteen, twenty hours. Don’t they feel that they have a family? They have children that need to be seen? Don’t they feel? That we are human beings? It is not the innovation, it is not the gig economy. It is the killing mashing of human beings. And we are victimized today and we are standing in front of the city hall, city council and let them know we are here. We cannot take it anymore. We cannot lose our brothers anymore.”
Host: Unlike 2015, this time around, taxi drivers have been able to secure a cap on additional Uber and Lyft vehicles through their own self-activity. Unfortunately, we’re out of time for now. Join us for episode three when Carlos and Julian report on the history of NYC taxi drivers and their efforts to organize themselves and how Taxi drivers were able to beat back Uber and Lyft in 2018. As always, this is Lea. In solidarity.