I signed up with Uber and started driving part time in late 2014 after seeing how much my friends were making and the flexibility they had. It was good at the beginning, so eventually I quit my job as a technician at Time Warner Cable and started driving full time. I loved the flexibility of working when I wanted.
When Uber first cut pay for drivers, this was prior to IDG so we drivers didn’t really have any options because we didn’t have an organization to help us. We didn’t have anything. Our protests for better pay and better treatment were ineffective. About two months after Uber’s second pay cut, the IDG was created so of course I joined. It’s a place where drivers can come together to have a platform to talk about what matters to them, to fight for fairness. We started mobilizing our pay campaign, trying to get a raise. That was actually three very long years of fighting together. Failing together. And finally, earlier this year, a minimum wage for drivers in New York City was approved.
It took us three years to get that together and it literally took those app companies about three minutes to find a loophole: Start logging drivers out of the app. There are no rules or regulations that prevent these app-based companies from cutting pay rates or from controlling how much drivers could work. A lot of drivers took out very high vehicle loans and they have to pay high insurance. All of a sudden they are presented with a restricted schedule, which doesn't give them enough time to work to even make their vehicle payment. Or they are at the mercy of a taxi rental or leasing company, where they are being overcharged because there are no regulations.
Over the years, I’ve heard about drivers who’ve hit rock bottom to the point where suicide unfortunately was their only option, which is terrible. Part of organizing is to keep drivers aware of what's going on and to build community groups because we know that when united, drivers have more power. We also put together a wellness team to help the cab drivers walking in with so many different problems every day.
The hardest part is waking up every single day driving and not knowing if this is going to be your last day because any ride can literally be your last day of driving because of bad ratings. When a driver gets below a 4.71 rating, they get deactivated. The moment that a driver is either deactivated or suspended, that's not the only person going to suffer. These people have families. When you deactivate a driver, you literally deactivate an entire family. Drivers need to have the protection of due process to appeal deactivation. When drivers have appealed, Uber wouldn’t answer for months, sometimes for years. They don't care because each driver is replaceable. Those guys don't listen.
We want to keep organizing and pushing these big companies and city officials to set regulations so we get compensated fairly, keep our flexibility, and work as much as we want. Negotiation with these companies and legislation have to go hand-in-hand to end unjust practices. We definitely need a right to bargain, to be able to sit down with the companies and talk about what matters to us. We need legislation to get fair regulations in place. This will help a lot of people because that will give us drivers the peace of mind of not being on edge every single time we pick up a rider.
Aziz Bah was born and raised in Senegal and came to the United States a few years ago after completing his Bachelor’s degree. He speaks Wolof, Fulani, French, and English. Aziz is a driver and a full-time organizer for the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG). He lives in Corona, NY with his 11 year old twins.
As domestic workers, we have a really strong presence in the economy. We need a lot more to live dignified lives — retirement plans, health insurance — and we’re going to keep organizing.
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