- Act Up
- BBC Radio 3
- community organizing
- consensus decision-making
- cooper square
- dover garage
- El Salvador
- fare increase
- hack license
- hot seat
- insurgent worker movement
- Jimmy Cliff
- lower east side
- Michael Goldfarb
- new left
- new york taxi
- occupy wall street
- participatory democracy
- rank and file
- taxi drivers
- taxi rand and file
- taxi workers alliance
- union dues
- union meeting
This article from In These Times was sent in by both Charlie W. and Tony E.
New York City Drivers Cooperative Aims to Smash Uber’s Exploitative Model
The city’s first worker-owned ridesharing app gets ready to take on the big boys.
HAMILTON NOLAN DECEMBER 10, 2020
Ken Lewis grew up on the island of Grenada, and witnessed the progressive aftermath of its 1979 revolution. “I remember the power of cooperatives, people getting land, turning places that were barren into productive places,” he says. That image stayed with him after he moved to New York City for grad school and started driving a taxi on the side. Now, several decades later, Lewis is finally getting a chance to put the power of cooperatives into practice, in service of the drivers he worked with for so long.
He is one of three cofounders of The Drivers Cooperative (TDC), which aims to realize a long-held dream of socially conscious New Yorkers in a hurry: a ridesharing app that you can feel good about. When it rolls out to the public early next year, TDC will become New York City’s first worker-owned ridesharing platform — owned by the drivers themselves, rather than by big investors and executives. Its founders’ brazen idea is that TDC can actually gain a competitive advantage over Uber and Lyft — saving money and funneling those savings back to drivers — by doing away with the most exploitative practices of that dominant duopoly. “The way the [Uber] model is organized is extractive. It takes out the money and doesn’t give back much. Imagine a company that doesn’t have any profits, but has created billionaires,” Lewis says. “That money comes from drivers.”
Erik Forman, a veteran labor activist and organizer, became intimately acquainted with the dark side of that extractive model when he was working as a staff member at the Independent Drivers Guild, a union-affiliated group that organizes rideshare drivers in New York. Companies that operate in the industry regularly push much of the risk of employment onto the drivers by classifying them as “independent contractors” rather than employees. But they also push the costs of the job onto the workers, forcing them to pay for their own car and maintenance (not to mention things like healthcare benefits). Instead of being paid to work, in other words, ridesharing apps — like other “gig economy” companies — make people pay in order to work. When Uber launched in New York City in 2011, it was an attractive alternative for many who had previously been taxi drivers, with decent pay and little regulation. But in subsequent years, Uber cut pay rates while the number of drivers rose, leaving many who had taken out loans to buy cars for their job struggling to meet their debt obligations and earn a living.
Forman, who has been through bitter union battles with big companies, realized that for the same amount of effort, workers could probably start their own venture — leading him to help cofound the ridesharing coop. “The industry seems uniquely in need of a system change based on worker ownership,” he says. “[TDC] is not another company trying to get money out of drivers. It’s the opposite.”
In fact, the lack of exploitation is also The Drivers Cooperative’s financial advantage. For one thing, the billions of dollars that Uber has spent on marketing the concept of ridesharing mean that TDC has little need for big ad budgets. Their plan is to grow by building a network of drivers, using press and word of mouth. And while Uber and Lyft take around a quarter of the money from each trip (some of it to pay for all that marketing), the coop plans to take only 15%. By combining the purchasing power of all the members, they hope to lower expenses on costs like gas and insurance — expenses that Uber and Lyft drivers must handle on their own. They project that this should all add up to 8 – 10% higher earnings for drivers on every ride, even while being able to beat their competitors on fare prices. And if the coop has any profits left at the end of the year, they will be paid out to drivers as dividends.
Nobody understands the fundamental contrast with Uber’s business model better than the third cofounder, Alissa Orlando — because she used to work for Uber. Her stint as the head of Uber’s operations in East Africa left her disillusioned with the company’s predatory control over its drivers, embodied in the way it unilaterally cut earnings, deactivated drivers altogether, or saddled them with unsustainable car loans, all while claiming they were working together. “We called drivers partners to the extent that it helped us” maintain favorable regulatory status, Orlando says, “but they were never partners.”
Now she is using her experience in venture capital and platform-based businesses on behalf of TDC, a scrappier job that allows her to sleep better at night. Meeting with New York City drivers to recruit them into the coop, she’s heard countless stories of the impossible choices that drivers are forced to make — like the woman who said that a half dozen passengers get into her car without a mask every week, but if she objects, they give her a low rating. “She has to make this choice between ensuring that she’s safe, and the potential threat of deactivation,” Orlando says.
Mohammad Hossen, a rideshare driver who serves on the coop’s advisory board, says that the pandemic has acted as an accelerant for the urgency of the new project. His income from driving has fallen by two-thirds, to just $100 a day, and costs for disinfectant and other safety measures — paid out of his own pocket — have gone up. The shared predicament has allowed him to successfully recruit other drivers, while they wait for hours at the airport to get a fare. “At the end of the day, you have no life, no security, no future,” Hossen says. “We realize that, and we suffer.”
That could change when drivers are also the company’s owners. The Drivers Cooperative is starting a pilot project this month giving rides to workers for the Bronx-based Cooperative Home Care Associates, an example of cross-coop cooperation. Founders hope to eventually recruit several thousand drivers in the city, and say recruitment is going well. They aim to roll out their own app and open for business in the first quarter of 2021. Their eventual goal, they say, is 10% of the $5 billion New York City rideshare market, and expansion into other cities. For now, though, they will be satisfied with making a good idea a reality.
HAMILTON NOLAN is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.
Part II of the Times series on medallion loans scam!
A pretty incredible piece of reporting from the Times! Of course, we would argue that they were 40 years too late. Where were they in the late 70s when all this got started.
I’m going to post this story, then part II, and finally a video piece they did on the story.
Peter Russell drew my attention to this piece in the Nation:
Noam Chomsky was aptly described in a New York Times book review published almost four decades ago as “arguably the most important intellectual alive today.” He was 50 then. Now he is 90, and on the occasion of his December 7 birthday, the German international broadcasting service Deutsche Welle observed, again aptly, that Chomsky is “arguably the foremost political dissident of the last half a century.”
Chomsky reminds us that intellect and dissent go together, and that the vital challenge of our times is to maintain “an independent mind.” That’s not easy in an age of manufactured consent, but it is possible, as Chomsky so well reminds us—by continuing to speak, as consistently and as agilely as ever, about the lies of our times.
When I visited him the other day, he was as gracious, witty, and blunt as ever. He pulled no punches, decrying the flaws of capitalism and politics, sparing few politicians and no parties. The academic and activist, whose outspoken opposition to American imperialism earned him a place on former President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” answered a recent question (from Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman) about the approach of the Republican Party of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan to climate change with a question: “Has there ever been an organization in human history that is dedicated, with such commitment, to the destruction of organized human life on Earth?” His answer: “Not that I’m aware of.”
Much will be said about Chomsky’s contributions to our intellectual and political life in the days and weeks to come. And new contributions will be added by the man whose statements continue to stir debates and consciences. I want to offer just a brief note today, from an extended conversation we had several years ago about the challenges facing independent thinkers in perilous times.
“It was discovered about 30 years later in his unpublished papers. Today, if you get a new edition of Animal Farm, you might find it there,” he recalled. “The introduction is kind of interesting—he basically says what you all know: that the book is a critical, satiric analysis of the totalitarian enemy. But then he addresses himself to the people of free England; he says: You shouldn’t feel too self-righteous. He said in England, a free country—I’m virtually quoting—unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. And he goes on to give some examples, and, really, just a couple of common-sense explanations, which are to the point. One reason, he says, is: The press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. And the other, he says, essentially, is: It’s a ‘good’ education.”
Chomsky explained: “If you have a ‘good’ education, you’ve gone to the best schools, you have internalized the understanding that there’s certain things it just wouldn’t do to say—and I think we can add to that, it wouldn’t do to think. And that’s a powerful mechanism. So, there are things you just don’t think, and you don’t say. That’s the result of effective education, effective indoctrination. If people—many people—don’t succumb to it, what happens to them? Well, I’ll tell you a story: I was in Sweden a couple years ago, and I noticed that taxi drivers were being very friendly, much more than I expected. And finally I asked one of them, ‘Why’s everyone being so nice?’ He pulled out a T-shirt he said every taxi driver has, and the T-shirt had a picture of me and a quote in Swedish of something I’d said once when I was asked, ‘What happens to people of independent mind?’ And I said, ‘They become taxi drivers.’”
Or Noam Chomsky.
Tony Equale brought this article to my attention. According to the article, the two drivers profiled here drove at a garage on 55th Street, which must have been 55th Street Garage. During the 70s, there was a strong activist group at 55th Street, which included a couple of Rank & File members. 55th Street drivers went out on a wildcat strike in 1975, which you can read about in Hot Seat 35. Thanks to Tony for passing this on.
The latest from the NY Taxi Workers Alliance
NYTWA has a plan to unite drivers in every sector – yellow, green, black car, livery and app dispatched – and STOP our crisis. Join us on July 10th to call for City Council to act on our demands!
** Require the taxi meter the minimum fare across the industry and then Raise the rates
** Cap the Number of For Hire Vehicles (FHVs)
** Require App drivers receive minimum 80% of the fare
** Cap FHV driver vehicle and commission expenses
** Have a program to stop owner-driver bankruptcies and foreclosures
** Fees on the App companies not App drivers. No one App restriction.
**Cap TLC fines and No suspension/revocation + fine
** Stop Congestion Pricing
** Health Fund with retirement for all drivers
Read our complete policy platform on NYTWA.org
As we get ready to take over Broadway on July 10th, here is the latest update: NYC’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) asked economists to study how much App drivers are making and to support a TLC proposal where App companies could charge anything they want to the passenger and then use a rate set by TLC on mileage and time on every trip to decide payment on the trip for the driver.
So remember how just when Uber started to charge passengers more on trips, they came up with Upfront Pricing, where they stopped letting drivers get a percentage of that money (revenue)? Drivers across the country, including NYTWA members, sued to stop it because we saw the receipts that showed Uber took way more from the passenger compared to what they paid the driver. Uber made more. Drivers made less.
Well, now, the TLC wants to turn this Uber business practice into a regulation. The TLC proposal would let the companies charge passengers whatever they want and lets Uber cut drivers out of that revenue. In exchange, Uber, Lyft etc. would have to use rates set by the TLC to add up how much the driver gets paid on every trip. The TLC believes these rates will leave drivers making NYC’s minimum wage after taxes and expenses, as long as the driver has no more than $20,000 in yearly expenses.
The TLC’s pay proposal locks app drivers in at minimum wage at a time when Uber & company are finally turning a profit – and lets Uber continue the race to the bottom that has left drivers in financial crisis.
We need to fix this crisis for drivers in EVERY sector! Keep pushing for City Hall to pass regulations – one regulated minimum rate of fare for all sectors, cap FHVs, cap FHV car expenses, and guarantee FHV drivers 80 percent of whichever is higher – the regulated rate of fare or the upfront pricing fee charged to passengers.
Let’s keep moving forward, with our eyes sharp on the prize – our demands!
We want a life of dignity and reward for our hard labor.
United, We Will Win! Together, We Can Fix Our Crisis.
JOIN THE RALLY ON JULY 10th AND BUILD OUR POWER!
As many of you know, Darol Chamberlain died suddenly – from an aortic aneurysm – on August 5th. Darol was a long-time member of the Taxi Rank & File Coalition. He drove at Ann Service and was a member of the shop committee there. Darol was steady and thoughtful, never calling attention to himself, always focused on doing what had to be done. When he left taxi in the mid 70s, he went to NYC Technical College to study machine tool technology.
In the late 1970s, he moved up to Ithaca with his soon to be wife Jane Mt. Pleasant. He got a job at a lab at Cornell. Whenever I saw him, I would ask him about his job but, honestly, I could never understand what he did there. I think that was partially because it was over my head but also because he was so modest and unassuming and always understated his role. A group of us from the Rank & File went up to the service for him. There were a couple of hundred people there, and many spoke movingly of the ways that Darol had touched them. While I got a little bit better sense of what he did there (he was the head of the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) electronics team and a member of the Clark Hall detector group at the Cornell Physics department), the truth is, I still don’t really understand it. But in their comments, the Darol I knew came shining through. He was a friend and comrade, someone who helped many of us understand the natural world, someone who could always be relied on. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.
I’ve reproduced here some of the documents from the service.
I thought this was worth sharing! Hope to see you in the streets!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, January 30, 2017
Statement from New York Taxi Workers Alliance on #DeleteUber:
Seeing thousands of you stand up in defense of our strike and against Uber’s greed has been so deeply moving. Striking is the hardest decision workers have to make, even when you win, because of the isolation that follows. Your solidarity brings us light in these dark times, in so many ways.
Uber, more than any other share-the-scraps company, has used liberal rhetoric to woo progressives all the while retaining three times more lobbyists than Wal-Mart to push for policies that keep workers poor. It’s not shocking that Uber would put greed above social principles. It does that to drivers every day.
Now is the time for all those who value justice and equality to join together in holding Uber accountable, not only for its complicity with Trump’s hateful policies but also for impoverishing workers.
Uber’s greed and disregard for social values was evident before the company’s CEO Travis Kalanick became an advisor to Donald Trump. And Uber drivers along with other professional drivers bear the brunt of that greed.
Make no mistake, the corporations leading the gig economy and the sharing economy will never be a part of the resistance. Backed by billions of dollars in Wall Street funding, these companies, including Uber and Lyft, are upending labor standards for which workers have spent centuries fighting. Sharing is the new euphemism for worker exploitation, meaning that workers share the scraps after corporations loot profits. Even as these corporations make million-dollar pledges today, they still refuse to abide by Minimum Wage laws.
We are a workforce that is predominantly Muslim and Sikh, a workforce that is predominantly black and brown, and a workforce that is increasingly impoverished. Uber and other so-called sharing economy actors are predicated on turning full-time jobs into part-time gigs, keeping workers impoverished and fragmented, making it harder to take action – at a loss to the workers and to civil society as we know it. That’s why we are so incredibly proud of our members, including Uber drivers, who stood up to the injustice of the Muslim ban on Saturday.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance represents all professional drivers in New York City, uniting those who drive Yellow Cabs, Green Cars, and Black Cars, including app-dispatched drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft.
Let’s hold Uber and every single corporation accountable for its greed-at-all-cost complicity in this inhumane policy and every such policy that follows. And let’s equally hold them accountable for the policies of impoverishment.
Founded in 1998, NYTWA is the 19,000-member strong union of NYC taxicab drivers, representing yellow cab drivers, green car, and black car drivers, including drivers for Uber and Lyft. We fight for justice, rights, respect and dignity for the over 50,000 licensed men and women who often labor 12 hour shifts with little pay and few protections in the city’s mobile sweatshop. Our members come from every community, garage, and neighborhood. To find out more visit NYTWA.org or like us on facebook.com/nytwa.
Many of you must have noticed the passing on May 11th of Michael Ratner, for many years the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Michael was a tireless and passionate fighter for justice and social change. The New York Times ran a long obituary that can be found here. The Center ran their own tribute to him on their website.
None of the pieces I’ve read have mentioned a little known part of Michael’s early career: he was one of the lawyers who worked on the Taxi Rank & File Coalition’s historic lawsuit challenging the union leadership’s effort to impose the hated 1971 contract without a vote by the membership – as required by the union constitution. We filed our suit in April 1973, fully two years after the taxi bosses and the union imposed the contract – over the overwhelming opposition of taxi workers. You can read all about it in the Hot Seat, starting with #22.
We finally won a victory of sorts in November of that year when the unratified contract expired and the union and fleetowners tried to submit the next one to binding arbitration. Judge Marvin Frankel issued a temporary restraining order blocking that move. Finally, in June 1974, the union agreed to settle the case and hold a vote on what was now a new contract. The vote finally took place in September ’74. By then, the anger and fury over the contract was a distant memory and its most significant “innovations”, a lower share of the fare for new drivers and a dime off the top for benefits, had acquired the air of permanency. Barely five percent of the union membership voted and the contract passed by about two to one. According to the Hot Seat (I have to rely on that account since I can’t remember the details myself), almost half the people who voted for the contract were pensioners – the union leadership’s main base of support.
The Rank & File’s lead attorney was Richard Levy, but Michael played an important role in thinking through the case and developing strategy. I was on the committee that met with the lawyers, and I remember Michael as thoughtful, humble, and smart. He and Richard (who worked very hard on the case) did great work and were forever gracious to us even though the Rank & File voted not to ask the court to force the union to pay our legal fees.
Michael will be missed!