Cabbies, Uber, and a Driver’s Bill of Rights

Last year I authored a piece featured in the Huffington Post outlining the progressive case against ride-share.  I pointed out then when I still believe to be true today. That is the fact Uber and Lyft are nothing more than multi-national taxi-chains designed to drive down the earnings of workers and put more money in the pockets of the fat-cat investors on Wall Street and in London.  I also noted that the urban-liberal support for ride-share was the latest example of their detachment from issues of economic-justice and workers-rights. Indeed if baby boomer liberals were in large part defined by their solidarity and advocacy with labor and the working-class I think Generation X and “millennial” liberals can often be defined by their disdain for the working-class ( more on this in my piece Hillary, Gentrified Brooklyn and the Uber Democrats).

My feelings aside Uber is coming to St. Louis.  Word on the street is they will be here by late summer.  Their arrival will mark the end of many cabbies careers and the inability for many to earn a decent living for their families.  The fight for justice for drivers will continue. 
Last year while discussing these issues many said to me why aren’t you taking on the cab industry?  Surely if ride-share is bad for cabbies so are the cab companies they argued.  This was a point Alderman Scott Ogilvie made during our debate at The Royale in which I delivered such a verbal beatdown to the Minnesota cyclist I think he had to take a few sessions of therapy. 

My answer then is my answer now: it wasn’t the time. The threat at the moment was the Lyft outlaw. Lyft was supported by young progressives based on Cherokee Street.  Young progressives saw Lyft as hip and modern. However,  when you went into the comments sections of articles we didn’t see too much of anything hip or modern.  The number one complaint against cabbies was they weren’t white for the most part. “Foreigners”, “can’t speak English”, ” look like terrorists”, “ghetto”, etc. . The horrors of having to be in a car from someone outside of your race or religion for more than a few moments seemed too much for the flanelled offspring of Frontenac.

The questions for drivers are bigger than Uber,  Lyft or cab companies. The question is about fairness. 

Today in St. Louis and in most cities around the country cabbies have no representation.  Cabbies can be fired at any time for any reason.  Cabbies are labeled as independent-contractors: but in reality are employees who have rules, supervisors, and in the case of St. Louis have to wear a stupid uniform.  A ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court recently held cabbies are in fact employees. 

In addition to the fact cabbies can be fired at any time for any reason drivers also have no benefits.  No health-care,  no pension, no sick days, and no grievance-process.

The Metropolitan Taxi Commission could easily create instruments to deliver benefits to drivers. Yet we have a commission that has shown little interest in helping drivers. You can get a ticket for not having a white-shirt tucked in while the MTC is powerless to stop illegal ( and often dangerous) Illinois cabs from prowling our streets at night.

Cabbies and Uber drivers alike need a Driver’s Bill of Rights.  A storm is getting ready to hit this industry and we have a lot of vulnerable drivers. To date neither the companies or comission has done nothing to give driver’s security. 

As part of a post-Ferguson progressive agenda for the city a Driver’s Bill of Rights is a must. St. Louis has been a city of followers for decades. On the issue of police brutality though our youth took to the streets and led the nation and inspired the world.  We can do the same for professional drivers whether they drive for Uber or a traditional cab company.

Confederate Statue in Forest Park

Kudos to Mayor Slay and St. Louis magazine and others for bringing up the issue of the Confederate Memorial in Forest Park. Recognize our history. Don’t glorify it. The statue should be moved to somewhere more appropriate like Jeff Roorda’s house. This is also a time to reflect on our Missouri History of slavery. Don’t forget it is against Missourians the Shahid John Brown did jihad.

Maplewood: Take The Lead Say No to Airbnb

It appears that the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood may be taking a close look at the room-renting service Airbnb. I say it’s about time. 

For those outside of the St. Louis area Maplewood is a sort of trendy inner-ring suburb west of the city. The city has a bar district,  historical homes, it’s own school district,  and a diverse population according to St. Louis standards. I have always got the feeling Maplewood was a place where hipsters with kids landed. Families who had kids and knew better than putting them in St. Louis Public Schools.  Or those who wanted the urban-feel but weren’t adventurous enough to land on Cherokee Street.  My sister lives in Dogtown in the city, which borders Maplewood,  and shops there a lot. My little brother used to get sent to Maplewood to live with an aunt because my mother thought the area was safe and he would stay out of trouble.  He referred to Maplewood as Mayberry. 

Now that you have a little background on Mayberry let’s get to Airbnb.  I first learned about Airbnb from a French academic interviewing me while visiting St. Louis. On a trip to Chicago I decided to try Airbnb.  I found a place next to the Mexican Museum of Art in the Pilsen neighborhood.  A cool location.  I did the Art Walk. The place I rented was occupied by a really hot French woman,  a Greek woman who gave me the flu,  and a kinda free-spirited white dude.

I saved a lot of money on my trip to Chicago to hear a lecture by Dr. Sherman Jackson: but I wouldn’t say I really had a positive Airbnb experience.  Back in St. Louis I decided to rent out my place in Old North St Louis.  All I got was dudes coming to town for a ninja competition and I declined them all not wanting fucking ninjas in my living room. 

I began to think about Airbnb and study up on the issue.  Today I can tell you I am definitely opposed to Airbnb.  Here is why:

-Safety.  Hotels have security and are designed to protect the safety of guests.  There are no such safety mechanisms with Airbnb.  There is also the safety factor for the community not knowing who is coming in and out of their neighborhoods. 

-Zoning. People buy their homes for quality of life reasons.  Few will choose to live next to a boarding house or cheap motel which is exactly what Airbnb is flying in under regulations. 

-Economy.  Airbnb is bad for the economy.  Hotels and motels employ housekeepers, kitchen workers, maintenance staff, front desk clerks, security and others. Airbnb threatens all of these working-class often union jobs. 

-Taxation.  Cities have hospitality taxes. Airbnb basically operates as tax cheats depriving cities of needed tax-revenue.

-Race. In a segregated America we should celebrate any opportunity Americans of different races, religions and ethnicities get to interact with one another.  Airbnb is a service where you can be rejected by those renting places for any reason.  How much do you wanna bet the reason is often race? Gender? Religion?  Or sexuality? All forbidden for hotels or motels to do. 

-the Share Economy.  If you haven’t noticed by now the share economy is about the rich getting richer. First of all the title share is bullshit.  If it’s sharing I get to use something for free.  That’s not the case. Couched in the hipster feel-good language Airbnb is just a big corporation skirting regulations looking to pull in the big bucks by cutting corners.

Eight Observations on Current Status of Events in the St. Louis Area.

1. The media has taken a sharp turn against protesters. This coincides with protests coming into the city in proximity to where many media members live and close to expensive homes and prestigious institutions. In Ferguson unrest was a novelty only affecting a working-class community few non North County/City people had a connection to and it was seen as a novelty. When the situation hit close to home the tune changed.

2. Bassem Masri has been setup by the police and some local media in full- compliance as the villian. A Palestinian-American Muslim who gets overheated at times and doesn’t think before he speaks ( I’m also guilty of this) Bassem is an easy villian for them to create as he is so “other” to white America. If he lives I really believe Bassem is going to do great things. My fear is Bassem will be killed by police and the plots for his death are being hatched now.

3. I believe you’ll see Allen West, Herman Cain, and the other favorite black flunkies of the right-wing in St. Louis before you see President Obama. President Obama will continue to seem aloof and phone it in from afar unless there is an LA Riots type of situation or greater.

4. This movement has totally destroyed the fake image of a modern, progressive, racially harmonious region that local boosters and “deep thinkers” have tried to promote. You’re not going to be able to attract the young people and immigrants this region needs when you have such an entrenched culture of racism in the region.

5. The hate and death threats against me began when Mark Reardon of KMOX radio began attacking me on the air. Reardon and other conservative talk-radio hosts make a good living spreading hate and inciting fear. There is an angry, confused, bigoted, and often uneducated white population in America that doesn’t understand changes in society and is fearful. Instead of using their position to educate people those like Reardon use their position to prey on their worst instincts. While men like Reardon, Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh incite they won’t be around for any of the action. That will be left to the simpeltons who soak up their message while they’re busy living the cosmopolitan-elite lifestyle they rail against.

6. There will be blood. Everyone knows it’s coming. Not what I want. Not what excites me. It’s just unavoidable at this point. A lot of people are going to die in the coming weeks ( mostly by police) , a lot of property damage, and the economy of the city and NoCo will tank. This can be a moment of death for our city or a chance to be born again from the fire and blood of the martyrs.

7. I’ve directed energy towards St. Charles County and other counties west of the Missouri River because that is the belly of the beast. If you can’t change the racist culture of St. Charles County you can’t change Noco. If you can’t change St. Charles County you can’t change the political math in the state of Missouri. In the past week I’ve also talked to so many people who shared with me stories of racism against them and their families in St. Charles County so for their sake alone we must go out there. Troy and St. Charles County are equivalent to the Mississippi of the Civil-rights Movement era. The fact that talks of protests in St. Charles County and Lincoln County have drawn responses where 90% include talks of guns, killing protesters and outright racist language reinforces the need in my mind. There is also the issue of St. Charles County apparently feeling the Constitution of the United States doesn’t apply to their white-flight county as they’ve threatening to charge myself and others with felonies if we engage in a protest out there.

8. We have some very good elected officials in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. Many have been active in Ferguson. However, these individuals are not representative of the dysfunctional and outdated political culture we have in the region. A large swath of the Democratic Party in the area are nothing more than 1950’s style Strom Thurmond Dixiecrats. This includes Governor Jay Nixon, Bob Mcculloch, Steve Stenger, some south city Alderman, and many others. Jeff Roorda is a Dixiecrat and much more. Roorda is a truly dangerous hate figure in our region. The Republicans of course are most often much worse and have become a laughingstock in Jefferson City passing some of the craziest right-wing legislation you can imagine. Nonetheless I will cast my vote for Rick Stream as a protest vote. Yes Stream is very problematic; but those areas he’s nutty on he won’t have any authority on as County Executive. What he’s committed to is NoCo where’s he’s been everyday for the last several weeks. The Democrats cannot continue to take people’s vote for granted. I happen to love and respect Zaki Baruti but I’m not idealistic about politics and don’t vote for third party candidates unless they’ve got a reasonable chance of winning