Hunger strike New York taxi drivers won


Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

At City Hall Park this afternoon, dozens of taxi drivers sang “TWA! And waved victory signs in the air. Some even started to dance. News that they had won their demands for debt relief had spread to the crowd, which had been protesting outside city hall since September. Among them were drivers, like Richard chow, who had gone on a hunger strike and were now visibly haggard, some of whom were too weak to move around without a wheelchair. For them, it was a painful 15-day period. They and several supporters stayed out in the elements, subsisting on nothing but water, Gatorade and coconut milk and sleeping in their taxis or rental vans at night. But there is no doubt that this extreme and risky tactic ultimately pushed the city to make the significant changes that drivers have been calling for for years.

The new deal, brokered by the Blasio administration between the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and the city’s largest medallion lender, Marblegate Assessment Management, will dramatically reduce taxi drivers’ outstanding loans and lower their monthly payments. The city has also agreed to be the guarantor of these loans. These changes, called “Naive” and “impractical” by critics, according to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, can cost up to $ 100 million on top of the A $ 65 million relief fund announced by the city in March, which taxi drivers found insufficient. Now, many medallion loans with an outstanding balance of at least $ 200,000 will be restructured into a city-backed loan of no more than $ 170,000. Interest rates on these loans will be capped at 5% over a 20-year period, with maximum payments of $ 1,122 per month (compared to the previous cap of $ 2,000, which would leave many drivers without enough money. money for rent or food). While this plan does not apply to other medallion lenders, many of the city’s 6,000 medallion driver-owners, who owe an average of $ 500,000, may now be able to get out of debt.

“This is a historic moment,” Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, shouted into a megaphone to the town hall crowd. “These terms mean that our brothers and sisters will be debt free for life.” Participants broke their fast with paper bowls filled with avocados and dates cut in half. Balkar singh, a hunger strike medallion owner who drove taxis for 32 years, complained of headaches and high blood pressure while fasting, but said he continued because “getting relief from the debt would mean that my family and I could survive. ” As Augustine Tang, a taxi locket owner who owes about $ 490,000 on his locket loan, put it, “We freaked him out. “

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