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trols the supply of yellow cabs; regulates which cabs can operate where; issues drivers’ licenses; and requires car replacement every five years.

“It’s a struggling business but what else are you going to do? People would rather struggle and drive vans than not work.”

  • e upshot is that despite being classified as independent

contractors, many drivers are effectively in an employ- ment relationship – how they do their job and what they earn is severely constrained by industry regulation and by the terms of contract with garages, brokers and bases. A good illustration is that during the steep escalation of gas prices last year, yellow cab drivers were not able to adjust fares on their own, but had to petition the TLC for a fuel surcharge (which was denied). In what follows, we therefore evaluate the drivers’ working conditions through the lens of core employment and labor laws (see Section III for a fuller treatment of how we define un- regulated work).

Working conditions & violations

Further, drivers do not receive overtime pay because of their independent contractor status. is lack of coverage has a significant impact, given the 70 and 80 hour weeks that drivers need to work to make any money after initial costs – weekly earnings would be as much as 25% higher if time-and-a-half were paid. More generally, drivers face verbal harassment, damage to their cabs, and non-pay- ment of fares. ey are not infrequently victims of rob- bery, physical threats and physical harm from passengers: “I have had more than four guns to my head,” one driver told us. Health and safety problems also result from long hours driving and traffic accidents. And drivers are more likely than other workers to be killed on the job. is is well-known in the industry: “I know it’s risky, but I do it because I have no choice,” another worker reported.

In our assessment, many yellow cab, livery cab, and dol- lar van drivers experience what are effectively unregulated working violations. As shown in Table K, hourly wages for drivers can fall below the minimum wage because of the very high number of hours worked per week, coupled with low net earnings. is may happen on a regular basis or just a few weeks a year, depending on gas prices, the fare rate that drivers are allowed to charge, and fluc- tuations in economic conditions. One driver we inter- viewed in 2004 rented a livery cab from another driver for a second shift; on a bad week, he brought home $200, which translates into significantly less than the minimum wage for six days of full-time work. A van driver told us,

While some taxi drivers are covered through workers’ compensation for injury on the job, health and safety regulations for the industry are weak, meaning that cabs are being driven without, for example, recommended protective equipment to forestall robberies. Exacerbat- ing the generally unsafe environment is the fact that the large majority of drivers have no health insurance.

Finally, drivers report harassment and fines for minor in- fractions by TLC agents and police. ese may result in drivers losing licenses so they cannot drive for as much as a month (meaning a substantial loss of income), as well as significant fines.


Unregulated Work in the Global City, Brennan Center for Justice, 2007

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