Testimony by James Conigliaro, Jr, Founder & President, Independent Drivers Guild
Before the Committee on For-Hire Vehicles
April 30, 2018

Good Morning Chairman Diaz, members of the Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. My name is James Conigliaro, Jr., I am the Founder and President of Independent Drivers Guild. I am also joined here today by Ryan Price, IDG’s Executive Director and Muhammed Barlas, a member of IDGs Board of Directors.

The Independent Drivers Guild is a nonprofit affiliate of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) that represents 65,000 working drivers throughout the for-hire vehicle industry. The IAMAW has been the only union to successfully organize black car workers in New York City, and has been doing so for twenty years. Ninety percent of our members are immigrants fighting for the American dream, representing 190 countries; they are young entrepreneurs, parents, seniors – the working poor. We are Uber, Lyft, Via, Juno workers united for a fair for-hire vehicle industry.

Council Members, I want to apologize upfront if my tone, at times, appears contentious. But we are beyond frustrated and taken aback — not only by the unjust treatment of our drivers which we will get to, but by the questionable process by which you are taking up these very serious matters that will impact the livelihoods of thousands of hard working immigrant families.

Intro 838 was only introduced last Wednesday, April 25th and a hearing is being held three (3) business days later. Then on Thursday afternoon several more bills are added to the agenda, each bill dealing with very serious and complex matters, each of which deserving of their own separate hearing. Now, here we and others are having very limited time — as you very well know — to deal with seven (7) matters of significant public policy import. Council Members, is this really how we want to deal with these important issues? The challenges facing this industry are real, but rushing through ill- conceived legislation will only worsen the situation. Let’s get it right. So much is at stake.

In the interest of time and as to not be distracted from the most destructive proposal, I will focus the majority of my testimony on Intro 838 (by Council Member Diaz) and look forward to taking questions on the other bills, and talking and working with Council Members Rodriguez, Levin, Lander on their very important proposals.

While the IDG agrees with the need for an improved regulatory system for app-based transportation services, especially with regard to driver pay and protections, we stand in strong opposition to this Intro 838 as it will only serve to harm the more than 65,000 app-based drivers and their families while putting their livelihoods in serious jeopardy.

Specifically, this bill would require a $2,000 annual licensing fee to app-based vehicle owners and prohibit any worker who drives for an app-based company (such as Uber, Lyft, Juno, Via, etc.) from driving for more than one app-based platform or any other transportation service including a black car, livery or medallion service.

Both of these provisions combined will force a significant amount of drivers out of the industry, into unbearable debt and abject poverty and God help us in how they deal with and overcome these unbearable burdens for them and their families.

It already has been well publicized that drivers are struggling to make minimum wage in a 12-hour work day after years exploitation and pay cuts by owners. It already has been well publicized that the increased stress and burdens that have been placed on drivers have caused some app-based drivers to resort to suicide right outside the gates of City Hall. Therefore, requiring an additional $2,000 annual fee on struggling drivers would only be callous and add insult to injury.

This $2,000 fee is nothing more than a $130 million annual pay-to-work tax on working poor, immigrant families — without any justification and without regard to its impact on individuals, families or consumers. $2,000 is equivalent to a full month’s pay for many drivers. Furthermore, there appears to be no other public policy purpose behind such a fee other than to punish workers for their career choice. The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has not requested such a fee. So, we question the real and legitimate public policy purpose behind this legislation.

Not only is it unprecedented, no driver — whether yellow, green, livery or black car — pays a $2,000 fee to operate their vehicle. The annual TLC fees for vehicles are either $550 per year for Medallion Owners or $550 every two years for Livery and Black Cars, including app-based drivers. In addition, the costs of the barrier to entry for all drivers to get a license, including app-based drivers, is already at least $769. That’s the facts. ALL DRIVERS across this industry — Livery, Medallion, Black Car and App-Based — are hurting. Instead of disingenuously pitting one set of the industry’s drivers against another — which is all this bill is doing — we should be working together on fair proposals that not only seek parity but that help all drivers, all immigrants, all working poor.

We call on this Committee and the Council to substantially reduce or eliminate ALL TLC driver fees. We strongly support eliminating all fees for all drivers or decreasing the fees for Medallion Owner-Operators to $550 every two years so as the entire industry is treated equally. That would be the fair and honest thing to do.

With regard to the bill’s provision that prohibits all for-hire vehicle workers from driving for more than one app-based company or any other transportation service like black car, livery, green, or yellow (referred to herein as the one-boss rule) — this provides undue power to employers, medallion owners, base-owners, and app-based companies and significantly weakens drivers’ leverage. The vast majority of for-hire vehicle workers use multiple platforms and services in order to provide for their families, and to hedge their support for specific companies. Even many green and yellow medallion drivers are Uber and Lyft drivers as are black and livery services drivers.

The one-boss rule further poses a huge threat to jobs and economic security. Ride-hail apps are famous for treating drivers as expendable, like slashing pay with no notice and firing hundreds of workers every month. Preventing drivers from working for more than one company means that when a driver is fired or mistreated, they will have no option to provide for their families. Forget severance pay or unemployment checks as app-based drivers are deemed “independent contractors”. Under the one-boss rule, they will be forced to pay another month’s worth of taxes for the privilege of working 12-hour shifts under a different boss.

This will also hurt consumers, especially those in the outer boroughs, as competition will decrease, resulting in higher costs and longer wait times. The one-boss rule also has the dangerous possibility of harming smaller and family-owned businesses while providing a monopoly to Uber as upwards of 80% of app-based drivers are signed up with Uber and would likely stay with this app-based company if this bill was passed. This legislation, simply put, misses the mark and gets it wrong. Recent technology, specifically app-based technology, has transformed the entire for-hire vehicle industry and thus reform and parity is needed on a grander scale. Professional drivers are in desperate need for livable pay, benefits, and workplace protections. Let’s work together and get it right.

With regard to the other bills on the agenda today, which again deserve more time and a separate hearing, here are our thoughts.

Pay Equity and Protections: We look forward to working with Council Member Lander on his legislation and appreciate his efforts on this front. On March 30th, 2018, with the support of almost 16,000 workers who signed a petition, the Independent Drivers Guild submitted a formal rulemaking petition for the Taxi and Limousine Commission to regulate driver pay in an effort to enable our members to make a livable wage in an eight hour day. The proposed rules would reduce their time on the road and ensure that government taxes and company fees would not be allowed to be taken from the driver’s pay, increase pay for workers who choose to operate a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle, disincentivize price gouging, and give workers more basic workplace rights. We feel that before any other regulations, the basic protection of minimum pay is essential. The TLC
has until May 21st, 2018 to respond.

Cap on Driver Licenses, Not Vehicles: We look forward to working with Council Member Levin on his legislation, Intro 144. The most overwhelmingly supported action by our members that the City Council has the authority to accomplish is to limit the number of workers entering the industry as opposed to placing a cap on vehicles. A cap on vehicles provides more power to owners and companies, while limiting the workforce provides power and value to the drivers. We support a limit to the number of newly issued Universal Drivers Licenses based on the total and expected number of for-hire and taxi trips. Limiting the labor pool will require all companies to compete to keep drivers working for them, meaning the competition shifts away from a race to the bottom on
driver pay, and shifts to providing benefits.

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles: We look forward to working with Council Member Rodriguez, as we have so well in the past, on his legislation, Intro 855. As described in our public comment to the TLC, our membership staunchly opposes outright percentage requirements for Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles. Costs for conversion or purchase for Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles should not be passed on to workers. It is essential that the transition to a more accessible industry incentivizes preferred behavior for it to be successful, in this case purchasing and operating a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle. We propose a three-part plan for a more equitable and comprehensive transition to an accessible industry.

1. Regulate an increased pay rate for Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle operators as proposed in IDG’s rulemaking petition currently before the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.

2. Mandate enhanced WAV classes.

3. Implement a For-Hire Vehicle Improvement Fund similar to the Taxi Improvement Fund, to subsidize costs for conversions and purchases of accessible vehicles.

Thank you Chairman Diaz and Council Members, we look forward in the weeks ahead to talking and working with all of you on all these important matters and we will be happy to take your questions.