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Uber Drivers Rally in Tandem with Bodega Owners Strike

Jesse Rubin Feb 5

While some 1,000 Yemeni-American bodega owners rallied outside Borough Hall in Brooklyn on Thursday—during a massive shutdown of the city’s corner stores to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries including Yemen—another vital part of New York’s immigrant workforce rallied in Queens outside the headquarters of ride-share giant Uber.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a 19,000 member strong union that has represented the city’s taxi drivers for almost 20 years, protested Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s cozy relationship with President Trump and the company’s general lack of concern for its workers' well being.

The taxi drivers of New York City comprise a workforce that is predominantly Muslim and Sikh, black and brown and increasingly impoverished.

Mazeda Uddin, a Bangladeshi-American from Queens and CEO of advocacy group South Asian Fund for Education, Scholarship and Training (SAFEST) noted that “my own brother is an Uber driver and he said 24/7, anything can happen to him.”

The so-called sharing economy implements disturbingly few protections in general, as they designate their workers as contractors, not employees.

“There is no protection for them.” Uddin told The Indypendent. “Our workers do not feel safe”

47% of taxi and Uber workers are South Asian and Muslims, Uddin added, asking Uber’s CEO rhetorically, “do you understand how affected we are [by Trump’s immigration ban]?”

In response to massive protests nationally, including that organized outside Uber’s Long Island City headquarters by the Taxi Workers Alliance (in conjunction with a broad coalition of other unions and social justice groups such as Make the Road New York and Center for Popular Democracy), Kalanick has since stepped down from Trump’s economic advisory council in a concise victory for the immigrant-dominated New York City workforce.

“Earlier today I spoke briefly with the president about the immigration executive order and its issues for our community,” Kalanick wrote in a statement. “I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council. Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.”

The company has been under increased pressure since Trump signed the executive orders last week. When the Taxi Workers Alliance called for a temporary stoppage of pickups from JFK Airport on Saturday to protest the detainment of travelers at the airport—many of whom posses valid visas or green cards—Uber announced it would shut off surge pricing in a clear attempt to gain more passengers and break the strike.

“When people come out to JFK and drivers called for a strike, Uber wanted to break that strike against a ban that would affect their own drivers,” Fahd Ahmed, of the Jackson Heights-based South Asian advocacy organization DRUM, told the crowd at the protest. “How ugly can you get?”

The New York Times reports that over 200,000 Uber accounts have been deleted since the company broke the strike.

“Seeing thousands of you stand up in defense of our strike and against Uber’s greed has been so deeply moving," the New York Taxi Workers Alliance wrote in a January 30 statement. "Striking is the hardest decision workers have to make, even when you win, because of the isolation that follows. Your solidarity brings us light in these dark times, in so many ways."

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