New York Taxi Workers Alliance, led by Indian-American, continues protests cabbies’ debt crisis

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New York Taxi Workers Alliance members protesting March 29, 2021, on the 9th straight day at City Hall. Photo: Twitter NYTWA

Yellow cab medallion owner-drivers held their 9th straight day of protest at City Hall March 29, 2021, the latest as part of their 18th protest in 21 days since the city announced a plan to address the debt crisis which the cabbies say does not offer debt forgiveness at sustainable levels and doesn’t offer a government backstop, or guarantee, to take the risk of housing foreclosure and wage garnishing off drivers.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance led by Bhairavi Desai, executive director, has a large number of South Asian origin drivers.

They have been holding rolling 9-day protests, concluding on the 9th day with a prayer for the 9 drivers lost “to suicide from economic despair” in 2018, a press release from the organization said.

At the protests, drivers recite from different holy books, light candles, and march on Broadway.

Drivers have held non-stop protests, including bridge shut downs and motorcades to Washington, D.C.

According to NYTWA, they were nearing victory when state Senator Jessica Ramos’ bill to create a fund for a backstop to incentivize lenders to reduce loans to $125,000 at no more than 4% interest over 20 years gained momentum.

The bill included clauses dealing with cases of default where the state would cover the balance left on the loan.

Cabbies believe that bill provided security for the $125,000 and owner-drivers would be protected against risk of losing their homes and assets and wage garnishing.

“Five days after publicly testifying at a state hearing that the city would work with the state on the bill, the Mayor blindsided drivers and legislators with a plan with no backstop or $125,000 maximum debt,” the press release says.

“Time is running out. As the economy reopens, there is added pressure on owner-drivers to resume monthly payments even though there still isn’t enough business,” Desai said in a statement. “Drivers are starting to report medallion foreclosures by lenders and new filings in bankruptcy court.”

Desai accused the city of having “a direct role in this crisis.”

“Without a global solution to restructure medallion debt at numbers drivers can actually pay, this generation of owner-drivers will be the last one,” Desai said noting that drivers above the age of 60 had lost their retirement when the medallion value crashed and their equity disappeared.

Because of the rise of alternate cab service like Uber and Lyft, the traditional cab owners in New York City have been losing clientele.

Desai urged the city to come forward of the cabbies who, without a viable market today, are not able to even lease their medallions for enough to make monthly payments.

“After serving the city for 30-40 some even 50 years of their life, they are facing down the barrel of homelessness and debtor’s prison,” Desai said, warning that this was a chance to get this right for thousands of families.

“We are urging the city, the state and Congress to work together on a global solution.”

The NYTWA has even called on U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer to intervene in the matter.

Founded in 1998, the NYTWA is the 25,000-member strong union of NYC taxicab drivers, representing yellow cab drivers, green car, and black car drivers, including drivers for Uber and Lyft.

“We fight for justice, rights, respect and dignity for the over 150,000 licensed men and women who often labor 12 hour shifts with little pay and few protections in the city’s mobile sweatshops” the organization says in its press release

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