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A New York Cirt taxi driver takes part in a hunger strike demanding debt relief

New York City taxi drivers and their supporters demanded debt relief at a rally during the second week of a hunger strike outside City Hall on October 31, 2021 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

'Historic Moment' as NYC Taxi Drivers Win Major Debt Relief Following Hunger Strike

"These terms mean that over 4,000 to 6,000 families can get their lives back," said the president of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

Julia Conley

New York City taxi drivers and their supporters celebrated late Wednesday after their two-week hunger strike forced policymakers to reach an agreement offering significant debt relief to thousands of drivers who have been affected by the city's taxi medallion debt crisis.
 
On the 15th day of the hunger strike outside City Hall, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) brokered a deal with Mayor Bill de Blasio which will cap the debts owed by taxi drivers at $170,000 and monthly payments at $1,100—a life-changing reduction for drivers who owe an average of about $600,000 in medallion loans.

"By going on a hunger strike in front of City Hall, there was no way you could ignore what we were doing to our bodies in the service of this fight."

 
"This is a historic moment," said Bhairavi Desai, president of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA). "These terms mean that over 4,000 to 6,000 families can get their lives back. These terms mean that our brothers and sisters will no longer have a lifetime of debt."
 
The agreement was made with Marblegate, the largest holder of medallion loan debt, and other lenders are expected to reach similar deals in the coming weeks.
 
Drivers and allies including New York lawmakers resorted to the hunger strike after spending a month outside City Hall, demanding that de Blasio accept a debt relief proposal put forward by the NYTWA and condemning the city's debt restructuring program as a giveaway to hedge funds that own medallion debt.
 
Thousands of New York cab drivers have fallen into debt in recent years after being pushed to take out loans to buy the medallions which allow them to own their taxis. The medallion loan market has served as a major revenue stream for the city, bringing in $850,000 during de Blasio's administration and that of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
 
The debt crisis has become a public health crisis for taxi drivers, driving some to suicide and contributing to heart attacks and other health problems, according to the NYTWA.
 
The drivers celebrated their victory on Wednesday afternoon after the ideal was announced.
 
 
The union applauded the support of lawmakers including Schumer; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.); state Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who joined the 15-day hunger strike; and state Assemblymember Zohran Kwame Mamdani, who, the NYTWA said, "camped out with us and brought a whole people's army."
 
"By going on a hunger strike in front of City Hall, there was no way you could ignore what we were doing to our bodies in the service of this fight," Mamdani told The Guardian. "It's infectious—the courage, the belief. Then it all culminated in today and I just haven't felt the emotions that I felt today in a long time."

 

Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that the drivers' fight for medallion debt relief began more than two years ago, with a proposal that was derided as "naïve, 'too expensive,' and unfeasible."

"Next time folks wonder why I'm stubborn, it's because we're constantly told our requests are impossible or unreasonable until we wind up accomplishing it anyway through hard work and organizing," tweeted Ocasio-Cortez. "When we organize people, the people win!"


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