Several of New York’s prominent labor unions have signed on in support of taxi drivers who have staged a weekslong hunger strike outside City Hall.
The aim of the hunger strike, which began Oct. 20, is to push Mayor Bill de Blasio to use city money to cap their debt at $145,000.
The drivers are plagued by massive debts after the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission knowingly misled them into taking on loans to buy taxi medallions at inflated costs over 12 years ending with the explosive growth of Uber in 2014. New York City raked in $855 million from those medallion sales, the state attorney general’s office found.
In an open letter to the mayor shared with The Post on Tuesday, prominent unions including 1199SEIU, SEIU 32BJ and the New York City Central Labor Council endorsed the hunger-striking cabbies’ proposal, which the New York Taxi Workers Alliance claims would cost the city $93 million over 30 years.
“These workers have put in decades of work behind the wheel and many rightly expected to begin a dignified retirement today. Instead, as we write you this letter, some of these workers have been on a hunger strike for over a week, sleeping in their taxis just outside of City Hall,” the letter said.
The unions also endorsed NYTWA’s call for the city to “guarantee” each individual driver’s debt — shielding the driver from financial consequences of default on the loan.
Other unions who signed onto the letter include CWA District 1, Teamsters Joint District Council 16, New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, UFCW Local 1500, New York State Nurses Association and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
The mayor and TLC officials object to NYTWA’s proposal, arguing that the city’s own debt relief program — underway since September — has already given out millions of dollars to help drivers achieve low monthly payments.
They also point to data showing recent increases in taxi trips and driver income as evidence of potential for a rebound in the medallion market.
De Blasio did not close the door on NYTWA’s plan when asked about it at a press conference last Friday, but defended the TLC program, which has reduced 173 driver’s debts by a total of $21.4 million, according to city figures.
“We worked hard to find a solution. We worked with the City Council, which passed our budget, including the relief for the taxi drivers,” he said. “We have something right now that can help them, and I want every driver to take advantage of this. We’ll continue to look at any other tools, any other ways we can help.”
But NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said the TLC’s program still leaves drivers with monthly payments too big to earn a living wage.
“A driver having to pay a $2,000 monthly mortgage — which under the TLC plan is allowed — they’re going to learn less than $10 an hour,” she said. “They’re delusional. This is the same agency that inflated the value years ago. It looks like they haven’t learned anything.”
“Under the city’s plan, really, the TLC’s plan, it’s just not enough debt relief,” she said. “Thousands of drivers will be left with debts as high as between $300,000 to $500,000. Some even higher than that. They’ll still be under a lifetime of debt and earning below minimum wage as they pay it off.”