July 21, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The $50 billion app-based car service known as Uber likes to bill itself as the coolest thing to hit New York City streets since the ice-cream truck — but this week at a rally on the steps of City Hall drivers who make their living behind the wheel picking up passengers, charged that the multinational corporation is just another fat cat feasting on the hard work of low-wage earners.
“Urber has practically paved the road to poverty for us taxi drivers,” New York Taxi Alliance Organizer Victor Salazar told LaborPress on Monday. “Uber does not want to follow the rules and regulations that everybody else follows.”
According to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, cab drivers who spend 12-hour shifts plying the city streets for fares only make $10 to $12 an hour in take-home pay — which puts them right alongside fast food workes and others in the Fight for $15 Movement struggling for livable wages.
Although classified as “black cars," for hire vehicles that book in zones and have 15-minute arrival windows, opponents say that Uber drivers actually operate more like traditional taxis, continually scouring the streets for fares to pick-up on the spot.
This realtiy, they argue, has the net effect of putting something like 19,000 more taxis on the streets of New York overnight. As a result, increasingly fed up cab drivers say that city streets have become too congested, and that there aren’t enough fares to go around anymore.
“When Uber came on, it started off as supplemental income for [full-time] black car drivers,” said Jim Conigliaro, Jr., general counsel for Machinists Union District 15. "Since then, it's developed into a company that is recruiting more and more drivers. But the more people you have in an industry, the less money everybody can make.”
Conigliaro, Jr. said that every other industry has a cap on cars, and Uber should have one, too.
“Taxis have a cap, green cabs have a cap — this is the only industry that doesn't have a cap, and it’s allowing Uber to recruit as many drivers as they want. That drives down wages of the individual driver," Conigliaro said. "It's made it nearly impossible for the individual driver to earn a living wage, or a career in this industry.”
New legislation pending before the City Council seeks to slow down Uber's metastatic growth from 8,000 new cars each year, to about 3,100 – as well as trigger a Taxi & Limousine Commission study probing Uber’s environmental and economic impact on the city.
That prospect, however, has sent Uber's leadership into overdrive, seeing them spend tons of energy desperately trying to oppose the measure by charging Bill de Blasio’s progressive administration with everything from killing jobs to hurting underserved communities.
“A lot of money is at stake for Uber, and because of that they are claiming that the sky is falling,” Councilmember Helen Rosenthal [D-6th District] said.
Far from the hysteria blaring out of the Uber camp, Councilmember Rosenthal characterized efforts to look into the company's impact as “well-reasoned and thoughtful."
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez [D-10 District ], chair the Transportation Committee, jeered Uber, likening the car service to Walmart, and dismissing their protestations as an attempt to avoid “any and all regulations.”
“We're not against Uber," Denis Johnston, vice-president, SEIU Local 32BJ, told LaborPress. "We're against Uber not having quality jobs, not having benefits, and not playing on the same level playing field as the tax industry,”
Despite Uber’s claims to the contrary, opponents say that Uber drivers wind up taking home less than 50 percent of the fares they actually earn.
Like Conigliaro, Jr, Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desa fears that Uber will nevertheless succeed in transforming what up until now were full-time jobs that could feed families – into something that only pays paltry part-time wages.
“By trying to turn it into supplemental [earnings], they are digging people deeper and deeper into poverty,” Desa said.