On 2018, Uber driver Doug Schifter shot himself outside of City Hall in lower Manhattan. His public suicide was, he wrote, a bid to draw attention “to the plight of drivers.” Schifter saw that conditions were only getting worse, and warned in a letter posted on Facebook: “All that is needed now for a total disaster is a serious downturn in the economy reducing riders and there will be at least half million people hit hard. Downturns always come.”
Two years later, amid a pandemic, the economic downturn has arrived. A recent report from the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) shows a 75 percent drop in the number of taxi drivers; with 108,880 who drove in March dipped to 30,675 in June. That same month, drivers, including those on other ride-hailing apps, logged 251,696 trips per day compared to 750,000 daily trips in February. The result for drivers in New York City has been depressed earnings and unemployment.
As the incomes of thousands of app-based workers were wiped out due to the pandemic, drivers organized through the New York Taxi Workers Alliance won a decisive victory when a New York federal judge ruled that the state must pay drivers unemployment benefits. These standard protections, including minimum wage, overtime pay, and unemployment insurance, have long been denied to ride-hailing workers. But the pandemic has sharpened the demands in this roiling debate on employment status […]