Friday, March 9, 2018


The following letter appeared in the 3/8/18 edition of THE GAZETTE from Paul Steinberg. It is re-printed here with permission.

To the Editor:

Well, that didn’t last long: County Executive Latimer said last week that he will abolish the single token concession former County Executive Astorino got from Uber.

Last week’s announcement by Latimer related to the fingerprinting program. Uber opposed mandatory fingerprinting when proposed by Astorino, and what Uber wants, the NY Democratic Party gives: with Governor Cuomo’s blessing, the program was voluntary. Not surprisingly, few drivers have participated.

This is a serious concern. Legislator Kaplowitz (D-Somers) previously said that County data showed that up to 35% of applicants for a car service license got rejected by Westchester after fingerprinting. Given the rash of reported assaults by drivers (customarily though not exclusively on female passengers), the refusal of Governor Cuomo, former County Executive Astorino and current County Executive Latimer, Legislator Borgia and other politicians to demand fingerprinting puts lives at risk.

Amid partisan rancor, one of the few areas of agreement among leaders of the 2 major parties is that we need more worker exploitation. This is understandable from a stereotypical heartless right-winger or a libertarian perspective. Coming from self-styled woke “progressive” Westchester politicians it is as revealing as it is cynical.

Legislator Boykin (D-White Plains) has called Uber and Lyft “a significant driver of economic opportunity.” Well, repealing wage and hour laws and abolishing worker safety regulations and environmental protections would increase economic activity too: does Legislator Boykin always support such backward thinking, or is it only when worker exploitation is facilitated by a really cool app on his iPhone X?

Legislator Borgia (D-Ossining) was so instrumental in clearing the path for Uber that last year, Borgia and Boykin were singled out for praise by Uber legislative flack Josh Gold. The Westchester County Board of Legislators even put out a press release quoting Uber praising Borgia and Boykin!

Josh Gold has been an effective lobbyist for Uber, and when he speaks our politicians do as directed. In fairness Gold is correct when he points out that Uber magnanimously agreed to a concession after tough negotiating with Suffolk County last year: sex offenders are now barred from Uber. Yeaa! Seriously. This was heralded as a great victory over Uber.

But pretty much anything else goes. Last year, an Astorino spokesperson said that 2016 fines collected by Westchester TLC totaled around $800,000 and the majority came from fines paid by ride-hailing services operating illegally. This is not just a Westchester problem: Uber and Lyft are suspected of widespread cheating on airport franchise fees, with an audit at San Francisco airport uncovering 39,000 unreported fares and $150,000 in fee cheating—in just a single 8 month period, at a single airport. And discussion of the Uber “Greyball” scandal would be a story in itself, where in Portland the police commissioner wanted to subpoena Uber and pursue criminal charges against the company.

Breaking the law is just a cost of business for Uber and Lyft. The very business model so beloved by our “progressive” lawmakers Catherine Borgia and George Latimer is built on theft and worker exploitation.

A study last week by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that Uber drivers’ average income is $3.77 per hour. The methodology probably slightly understates the income and MIT is reworking the initial numbers, but Uber has not ever been honest or transparent. Officially Uber tells prospects “the more you drive, the more you’ll make” but a leaked internal Uber study showed wages that were in some cases below minimum wage.

Even that study over-stated income: a Washington Post analysis showed that using Uber’s own leaked data, earnings were $6.60 in Detroit, $8.43 in Houston, and $11.21 in Denver. Those are large cities, which is where Uber earnings tend to be higher than suburban areas.

Millennials feel there is no exploitation because Uber drivers are so happy and cheerful. Well, newsflash for the clueless: drivers are rated by passengers and as Uber warns drivers: “We take ratings very seriously; drivers with low ratings may lose access to the Uber app.” This is a 2018 version of the argument that slavery wasn’t bad because they were always smiling and singing spirituals: Uber drivers are cheerful because they don’t want to lose their $3.77 an hour job driving drunk people home from parties, not because you are the driver’s BFF.

Uber had revenues of $6.5 billion in 2016. Much of the true cost of Uber is quietly shifted onto the taxpayers. Uber provides no benefits and sub-minimum wage pay.

Uber does not contribute the employer share of FICA and Medicare (7.65%) and Uber benefits from a de facto tax subsidy due to the IRS mileage allowance. When McDonald’s and Wal-Mart did this type of cost-shifting and screwed their workers, they were denounced by the very same politicians that now ignore the devastation being wrought by Uber and Lyft.

The tax dodge is actually one of the key selling points for the radical right: the Foundation for Economic Education cheerfully says that since the IRS allows for a 54 cent/mile expense deduction and the marginal cost of the Uber driver’s commercial driving is supposedly 16 cents, the difference results in much of the Uber driver’s paltry income being not taxed. The MIT study also addresses this as one of the ways in which Uber drivers manage to survive, though the MIT authors don’t consider this a point of pride for Uber’s business model.

In a progressive county such as Westchester, our politicians are demanding higher minimum wages, paid sick leave, health coverage, paid leave for new parents, et cetera. So why are leaders of the progressive movement such as County Executive Latimer and Legislator Borgia cozying up to one of the most brutally exploitative businesses in the United States?

Self-interest, pure and simple. For Mr. Latimer and Ms. Borgia, the laborer is worthy of his hire—unless they are paying the laborer out of their own pocket.

The Board of Legislators’ pending and proposed wage and benefit increases are going to be borne by businesses. But holding Uber and Lyft to the same standard as regular taxi companies would result in the constituents of Executive Latimer and Legislator Borgia bearing the increased cost.

We are all speakers of trendy millennial lingo: “gig economy”, “sharing economy”, “on-demand workforce”… these are just verbal obfuscations to avoid facing the reality of our decisions.

We are the voters. If we truly believe that an honest day’s labor deserves an honest day’s pay, then we should tell Governor Cuomo, County Executive Latimer, and Legislator Borgia to stop promoting the exploitation of workers for the benefit of their venture capitalist friends.

--Paul Steinberg



  1. Thanks Paul. Whatever's "in fashion" apparently.

  2. If you're gonna make such sweeping accommodations for one, you have to do it for all in the interest of fairness. Taxi drivers and companies who have to pay all sorts of fees need to have been them removed at once!