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NYC Drivers Rail Against Uber’s Rate-Cutting ‘Monopoly’

January 30, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco

There's growing unrest in Uber-land this week.
There’s growing unrest in Uber-land this week.

Queens, NY – Uber drivers fed up with another round of rate cuts they say is forcing them to drive longer hours for less money, rallied outside the multi-billion-dollar corporation’s modest Jackson Avenue offices on Friday morning to protest what worker advocates and the NY Taxi Workers Alliance insist is also part of a brazen attempt to monopolize the transportation industry. 

“I’m driving more, but making less,” Juan Bautista, 47, told LaborPress. “This is the second time that Uber has cut our rates.”

Security wasn’t allowing anyone inside Uber's Long Island City offices. But earlier this week, the Daily News reported the app-based conglomerate has decided to cut rates by as much as 15 percent. Uber last cut rates in 2014, in what was understood to be an attempt to “undercut” the city’s yellow taxi cabs.

Uber loves to imagine an ever-growing workforce of blissfully happy part-time drivers, whose only interest is supplementing some other source of income, hitting the road with handsome little U cards behind their windshields and a few hours to kill. 

But that’s not the reality for drivers like Bautista. For them, driving for the ride sharing service and others like it, is the only source of income they have. In that case, Uber’s “No Shifts. No Bosses. No Limits” slogan means something entirely different. 

"I understand how riders would love this [rate cut], but we need to look at the repercussions," Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Transportation Committee, said in a statement. "For drivers who are lured by pipe dreams of a $90,000 annual salary, but now face depreciating returns on each ride, this move hurts. The shocks this sends around the industry furhter weakens driver benefits, lowering the pay floor as [Uber] seeks to be the only game in town."

When he began driving an Uber car two years ago, Bautista says he spent eight hours a day behind the wheel in an attempt to make ends meet. Now, the Bronx dad says he often finds himself on the road for 12-hour-long stretches at a time, in a deserate attempt to support his three children. 

Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the NY Taxi Workers Alliance, says that Uber’s latest rate cut is just another example of how the mega-corporation really is “racing to monopolize” the entire transportation industry. 

Last year, growing opposition to Uber’s anti-worker business model sparked large and vocal protests on the steps of City Hall, as well as Governor Cuomo’s midtown offices, but to little avail. Instead, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo were both accused of “giving in to Ubernomics.” 

And whether euphemistically dubbed the “share economy” or “gig economy,” Uber critics say that government as a whole is asleep at the wheel, and failing to come to the aid of workers caught up in current efforts to change the very nature of work. 

“Uber won’t stop here,” Desai said. “There are thousands of other workers behind behind them [also under threat].”

The de Blasio administration maintains that it cares about hard-pressed drivers and has already made efforts to address growing concerns. 

"The city believes we can improve conditions for workers in this fast-changing part of our economy," spokesperson Wiley Norvell said in an e-mail. 

Many Uber drivers are extremely reticient about speaking out for fear of losing their U cards and being locked out the app. Last fall, for example, a driver for the similar Lyft ride service in Seattle, said that she was "deactivated" less than 24-hours after attending a union meeting.

Nevertheless, Desai said that more drivers here in NYC like Bautista are willing to stand up for thier rights, and are, in fact, joining the NY Taxi Worker Alliance to agitate for change. 

Edtitor's Note: Bhairavi Desai will be a part of the LaborPress Radio Show/Podcast airing next Sunday, February 7, at Noon on WWRL 1600 AM. 

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