New York’s yellow cab drivers win struggle for debt relief

After two months of non-stop protests and two weeks of hunger strikes, drivers under the banner of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance reached an agreement with city authorities and the largest medallion loan holder

November 06, 2021 by Monica Cruz
Taxi drivers win US
(Photo: Twitter)

After a prolonged struggle, drivers with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) won their fight for a fair debt relief plan on Thursday, November 4. The victory came after drivers protested outside the City Hall for 46 days and nights, with some of them going on a hunger strike for over two weeks. Chanting “No more suicides!” the drivers rejoiced after the announcement that a plan had been negotiated with mayor Bill de Blasio, senator Chuck Schumer and Marblegate Asset Management, the city’s largest medallion loan holder. Drowning in debt, nine drivers have committed suicide since the price of the medallion crashed in 2014.

“After a long and painful journey, we made it home to victory,” exclaimed Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the NYTWA. “Today marks a new dawn, a new beginning for a workforce that has struggled through so much crisis and loss. Today, we can say owner-drivers have won real debt relief and can begin to get their lives back. Drivers will no longer be at risk of losing their homes, and no longer be held captive to debt beyond their lifetime.”

The workers who drive New York’s famous yellow cabs fell victim to a debt crisis manufactured by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission and predatory lenders financed by Wall Street.

Drivers have an average loan balance of USD 550,000. Over 900 have filed for bankruptcy since the price of the medallion was artificially inflated to an all-time high of USD 1 million in 2014 before falling dramatically.

The NYTWA proposed a plan to reduce and restructure this debt so that workers can pay it off while still making a liveable wage. Under the agreement, Marblegate will restructure loans to a maximum of USD 200,000, and with a USD 30,000 grant from the city, the highest loans will be reduced to USD 170,000.  The interest rate will be capped at 5% over a 20-year term, equaling monthly payments of USD 1,122.

The deal will work alongside the city’s federally-funded USD 65 million Medallion Relief Program, which went into effect on October 30 and has provided USD 21.4 million in debt relief for 173 medallion owners so far.

Victor Salazaar, a worker who has been driving yellow cabs in the city for almost three decades, said, “We can live with some respect and dignity. This victory will mean a lot of dignity for families who have been ignored for far too long.”