New York City Cab Drivers on Hunger Strike

After 46 days of picketing and 15 days of hunger, New York cab drivers have reached an agreement with officials to provide forgiveness for the many hardworking men and women that have been crushed with debt. The goal of this movement was to pressure mayor Bill de Blasio and the city to guarantee the loans that they took out to purchase medallions required to operate yellow cabs. In the New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s campaign video, Angie Tang, a New York City cab driver says, “NYC knowingly inflated the price of the medallions and made $850 million off these sales.” The city made drivers believe that this permit would help bring financial stability, and marketed it as better than stock, but with time, this promise proved to be shallow. By controlling the supply, the demand for owning a medallion soared among taxi drivers who bought into the city’s promise that a medallion would help them achieve financial stability. In an interview, Mr. Wiekiewicz pointed out that, “The whole point of these medallions was New York trying to get money out of the taxi industry.”

Since 2002, the price of a medallion has gone up from $200,000 to $800,000. “The thing about these medallions is that drivers have to take out loans to buy them from the city, New York should be the ones helping them since they are the ones that put the system into place.” Says Mr. Wieckiewicz. Though New York has pledged sixty five million over thirty years, the New York Taxi Workers Association and its supporters claim that it is not enough. Chuck Schumer states in the NYTWA’s campaign video, “NYC came up with a poorly structured and inadequate plan… We need NYC to deliver a plan that will deliver real workable relief.”

The NYTWA proposed its own plan totaling ninety million over thirty years including a city backed guarantee to reduce all outstanding medallion debt to a max of $145,000, which yellow cab drivers could pay at $800 a month. The plan drafted by the NYTWA is much more practical, as a taxi driver in New York makes $29 per hour on average, which comes out to $59,807 per year. The city didn’t take into consideration what other necessities a taxi driver’s salary would go towards such as insurance, vehicle maintenance, and inspection fees.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls this “manufactured financial indentured servitude.” Over nine hundred drivers have declared bankruptcy, and nine drivers have taken their own lives. The deal that was finally struck was made with the largest medallion loan-holder, Marblegate. Drivers will now be able to pay back their loans with around $1,100 per month. It is expected that many more lenders will do the same. This deal is one step closer to helping taxi drivers in New York put themselves on the pathway to the American Dream, and make a better life for themselves and future generations of cab drivers.