Statement By SF Taxi Workers Alliance On Deregulation And Attack On Taxi Workers

Statement By SF Taxi Workers Alliance On Deregulation And Attack On Taxi Workers

http://www.sftwa.org

The world is experiencing a change in the way taxicab services are delivered on a global scale. The reason for this change is because of the development of an application (app), utilized on a smart phone that calls a person nearby driving his or her own car. The developers of this app, as a taxi service, call the type of business in which they are engaged peer-to-peer or “sharing.” It was based on illegal file-sharing apps (like Napster) which Kalanick was twice found guilty of running. It is different from the old “gypsy cabs” because the app has a Yelp-like rating system, to alert other users about the quality of the driver, and a built in payment system in which both “peers” are identifiable for potential crimes (failure to pay or kidnapping). The developer of the app makes money by charging the driver a percentage of each ride he/she performs. The driver makes money by charging the customer for the price of the ride. The driver (peer) uses the app entirely voluntarily and is an independent contractor paying a fee to a service for calls.

Those whose job it is to regulate vehicles for hire, at both the city and state levels, have allowed them to operate under the rubric of “not wanting to stifle innovation.” SF Mayor Ed Lee declared July 13, 2013 “Lyft day” after his own MTA was issuing Uber “cease and desist” notices (October 20, 2010).” The CPUC then took it upon themselves to usurp regulatory oversight by declaring them (during a hasty two-day meeting) a new form of livery industry, Transportation Network Company (TNC) which they do regulate. They can therefore go anywhere in the state without regulation from local municipalities. Of course, they do not go anywhere, but rather to the cities with the greatest market for their services; that market is San Francisco. Over fifty thousand TNCs now flock to San Francisco daily to pick up fares, contributing to the air pollution and traffic congestion that everyone now recognizes.

This business has decimated traditional for-hire ride services, particularly taxis. Taxi drivers have seen their number of rides (and income) cut substantially by one third to one half. Many drivers have simply quit driving taxi. Some have become Uber drivers. As a result half of the taxi fleets stand idle. Now Uber and Lyft drivers with grievances against the TNCs have approached labor unions and asked for representation. Their desire for labor recognition belies the fact that for taxi workers they are considered the labor equivalent of “scabs.” Neither taxi drivers nor TNC drivers are strictly speaking workers. If not for the decline in their incomes most taxi drivers and TNC drivers would not have any interest in unions. Why, therefore, should the labor movement have any interest in un-organizable independent contractor taxi drivers?

Taxi drivers were among the first occupations to become “independent contractor” in 1978 when the employer-employee relationship broke down due to Proposition K. Cab companies saw the independent contractor status as a way to shift the risk for taxi operation entirely to the driver. The driver now paid a flat “gate” to take the cab out and returned the cab with a full tank of gas. The companies therefore made a definite profit every day regardless of how poorly the driver did. Independent contractor status has now spread far and wide throughout the workforce, undermining labor’s efforts to organize workers. Taxis, however, have been limited by city regulation by the requirement to possess a medallion, which the city issues. Thus taxi drivers have been able to achieve a decent income, despite the intention of the independent contractor status to drag incomes down. With the over-supply of drivers that the TNCs provide, the independent contractor device works and the incomes of taxi drivers and TNC drivers fall below the minimum wage for employer-employee workers.

To be continued . . . .