I had the last two days off. I worked on another of my long-winded essays, this one on language, the law, and some of my experiences with the latter. It is not quite finished, and today I start back to work, which means that I do not know when I will have time to finish it.
Every day that goes by without a new post feels like yet another failure in a life-long string of failures. So I have decided to sit down here for the roughly fifteen minutes I have before I must hit the shower and get ready for work, to say what is foremost in my mind. You have probably heard the adage that defines news as “Man Bites Dog” – a dog biting a man is not news, but a man biting a dog is. So my thought today takes the form of a headline:
LAST RAT BOARDS SINKING SHIP
The rat in question would be me, and the ship the taxi industry. Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar seem to have killed the traditional cab business. Of course, the rudeness, ignorance, and bad driving of many cabbies in years past played a role, too. And the industry’s resistance to increasing the number of cabs in this city meant that most people have had the bad experience I often had of calling for a cab and waiting, calling again and waiting, and often being left without a cab ever showing up at all. Nor could you ever just step to the curb and hail one, as you can in New York, because there were so few that an empty one would never come your way.
I have much more to say on this subject – complaints about the ability of companies tied to the internet to operate illegal businesses without any legal ramifications at all and observations about the ways in which the structure of the business has over time stripped drivers, who were once unionized workers paid an hourly wage, of any benefits or protections and left them supporting the owners of the companies for whom they drive first and themselves only second.
Here is how it is. I have to pay to go to work. The amount varies, but tonight, Saturday, the most expensive time of the week to work, costs me $135 up front. I pay that amount to rent the cab for twelve hours. I also have to return it full of gas, which costs about $15 to $20 a night. Thus I begin my work week in a couple of hours already $150 down. There are nights that I do not take in $150 in the whole twelve hours. Last Saturday I did well because a million people were in town for Gay Pride weekend, but the Saturday before I made $9.00 in the whole night. The week before that, I made $1.00.
I hate Saturdays. My stomach is already churning. I am angry at people who use their smart phones to call the cab companies that claim they are not cab companies and operate illegally (Uber, Lyft, Sidecar), angry at the drivers for those companies, and angry at the absence of any recourse. I had breakfast a couple of weeks ago with a wonderful friend who said that she did not really understand the importance of unions. This is the importance of unions: right now, given the complete laissez-faire, unregulated competition within the taxi business, we the working drivers are driven to take any work we can get for any amount of money, no matter how little. And our employers, both the companies and our passengers, can offer us next to nothing – or less than nothing, actually, since my employer offers me a loss of $150 to go to work.
Without organization as a single unit, labor is divided into individuals who will be driven to work for lower and lower wages because even those wages are better than nothing at all.
Read The Grapes of Wrath and In Dubious Battle, both by John Steinbeck. I have to go to work.