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.