New York City
Uber and Lyft, without admitting they did anything wrong, agreed to pay around 100,000 drivers $328 million in back wages that they stole from 2015 through 2017. Additionally, the office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who handled the negotiations, forced these companies to set up sick leave provisions for their drivers. They also had to agree to provide unemployment insurance to their drivers, even though they still can claim they are “independent contractors.”
In handling the news, most of the media ignored the fact that big companies which steal hundreds of millions of dollars are allowed to make restitution, while a worker who steals thousands of dollars or colludes very likely goes to jail. It was the actions and investigations of Attorney General James that are presented as the factors that led to this working-class victory.
What James did was indeed very important. But the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a labor organization, had been complaining and organizing around this issue for 8-1/2 years. Over 2,500 members of the NYTWA took part in this campaign, which involved picket lines and rallies, as well as lawsuits. .
NYTWA President Bhairavi Desai told the online news site ”The City” that she and her members are “ecstatic,” adding: “It pays to be persistent. Our members never gave up. You can’t turn back the clock and feed a hungry belly, but this money is going to help drivers get the life that they should have had in the years that this money was initially stolen.” (The City, Nov. 2)
While this is a historically large recovery, the Economic Policy Institute reports: “Between 2017 and 2020, more than $3 billion in stolen wages was recovered on behalf of workers by the U.S. Department of Labor, state departments of labor and attorneys general, and through class and collective action litigation.”
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance statement at their website ends: “The victory today for [over] 80,000 drivers was made possible because NYTWA members refused to give up. Build the union that wins! Driver Power! Union Power!”