NYC Uber drivers stage one-day strike over company robbery of $12M in raises
Uber drivers gather for a noontime rally in Manhattan on Jan. 5. | NY Taxi Workers Alliance via Twitter

NEW YORK—Some 80,000 low-wage mostly immigrant New York City Uber drivers staged a one-day strike on Jan. 5 over the firm’s robbery of an estimated $12 million in raises the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission ordered for them.

At a noontime rally at Uber headquarters at 175 Greenwich St., in downtown Manhattan, the drivers explained the city panel, following local law enacted in 2018, ordered a raise for them of at least $1,000 per driver per month, starting Dec. 19, 2022.

Including mileage reimbursements for skyrocketing gasoline expenses, the Uber drivers calculate they’ve lost $12 million. In addition to the strike, the drivers also asked customers to turn off the Uber app on their cell phones in solidarity through midnight.

Uber got a preliminary injunction to stop the raises ordered by the city—prompting a prior one-day drivers’ strike the day they were due to take effect, the 19th. The second strike precedes a Jan. 6 state Supreme Court hearing in Manhattan. In court, the commission is defending its raise for the drivers.

“Uber is trying to steal our raises from us. We aren’t going to let that happen,” responded driver Samassa Tidiane ahead of the rally.

The city’s Uber drivers, like their colleagues driving for the ride-share firm elsewhere in the U.S., are among the millions of exploited, low-wage fed-up workers from coast to coast who have had it with corporate greed at their expense.

Other such groups of workers include adjunct professors, port truckers, retail workers, warehouse workers, Amazon workers, and various “gig economy” workers. Those workers’ activism has led to large increases in union organizing and in employer-forced strikes. Other low-wage workers have just plain left for better jobs.

The commission-ordered raise for Uber drivers is supposed to cover inflation according to the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers’ transportation. That transportation index has skyrocketed since the first commission decision setting pay and reimbursement rates for the drivers, according to a friend-of-the-court brief the union-backed New York Taxi Workers Alliance filed with the judge.

In the brief, Uber driver Lamin Jatta said he told the city commission he used to pay $30 to fill up his tank and now pays $60. He wanted the panel to use “a consumer price that measures drivers’ professional expenses.” Driver Xavier Koudougou asked the commission “to use a CPI that reflects driver expenses because we drivers are consumer[s], but we use more gas than regular driver[s] and when the gas price [is] high, they have options. But we don’t.”

But after the commission approved the raise, Uber got the temporary injunction against it. The results: The drivers have had no raise at all, and their pay has not only fallen behind inflation but it’s also left many financially underwater. Many don’t even make the city’s minimum wage. So they’ve staged one-day strikes on Dec. 19 and on Jan. 5.

The Taxi Workers Alliance brief backing the Uber drivers lays out the impact in stark terms. So did the drivers, in statements before the noontime rally.

“I’m shocked and speechless thinking of how Uber stopped our raise after all the hearings and all the protests we did,” said Uber driver Nusrat Jahan, a Taxi Workers Alliance member. “This raise was like a small light of happiness for our families and for us, which Uber didn’t let happen.

“I’m ashamed Uber blocked this happiness before the holidays. Now I’m working for Uber raising all this money for them so they can hire a private jet or go to a private island or go to Dubai to celebrate their happiness with their families. We could have been earning $1,000 extra a month to pay our bills, not for luxuries.”

“We won raises from the Taxi and Limousine Commission, but Uber decided to go to a judge to stop our raises. Uber doesn’t think about the drivers, they just think about themselves,” added Tidiane, also a Taxi Workers Alliance member.

“We’re suffering because car payments, insurance, food, gas, and mechanic prices are all going up. If Uber was the one paying expenses for cars and gas, they would have raised the prices a long time ago, but it’s drivers who pay for everything out of pocket. Uber is trying to steal our raises from us. We aren’t going to let that happen.”

The Taxi Workers Alliance brief elaborated on the conditions the drivers face without the raise. It also noted that even with the commission’s hike, the raise still would not keep up with inflation the drivers face, or the costs of buying and maintaining their cars.

“The cost of everyday essentials, from bread and milk to rent, has increased due to inflation levels not seen in the past 40 years. Uber speaks of the choice it must make: Bear the cost itself—as a major multinational company—or pass it onto customers, in whole or in part, and potentially upset customers with higher fare pricing.

“The stark reality [is] that drivers have no choice…. They cannot increase what Uber charges for fares. They must pay and have already paid higher vehicle costs. They cannot pass the increased cost of cars, insurance, repairs, and fuel onto customers. And they cannot decrease Uber’s commission” from each fare.

Drivers “have seen their take-home pay drop precipitously. The results of such a decrease have immediate, human impact on drivers and their families who, beginning with a baseline of low-wage earnings, cannot make any more trade-offs. Indeed, the record reflects nearly 80% of drivers were already struggling to pay rent, and nearly 50% struggling to afford food.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.