Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado
It took a two-week hunger strike and 46 days of protests on the steps of City Hall to provide much needed relief for taxi drivers. Last week, the New York Taxi Driver’s alliance was able to obtain a city-back guarantee, which means that the drivers’ loans will be restructured to a maximum of $170,000. Drivers will pay a maximum of $1,100 a month. This is a huge win for taxi drivers who had loans of more than $400,000 and were, in some cases, paying more than $3000 a month. These drivers will not be at risk of losing their homes, and will finally be able to live without the burden of their loans on their backs.
Last week, we introduced you to Augustine Tang, a 37-year old taxi driver who was on a hunger strike for more than 12 days. He had said he would continue the hunger strike as long as it took to achieve relief for his fellow workers.
“We were all just hugging each other and saying to ourselves, ‘Like, we did it, you know, we did it, we did it together,’ ” said Tang. “It was hard for all of us to really even comprehend it. But you know, [it was] just all laughter and dancing and and just hugs all around.”
By then Tang had been on a hunger strike for 13 days, surviving on only Gatorade, coconut water and an electrolyte mix. He is excited to finally eat food, but won’t be able to just yet.
“The doctor says I can’t immediately go into just regular food. So I had like scrambled eggs. What I did have [also], I had congee with a little bit of chicken. I had soft foods and I also had some avocado as well. But I couldn’t eat too much anyway. My body just didn’t allow me to,” he said.
Assembly member Zohran Mamdani, who had also been fighting alongside the taxi drivers and was also on his second week of the hunger strike, ate “an avocado and two dates.” He added that he “followed the re-feeding guidelines pretty closely for 24 hours and then Diwali happened…”
Tang had been on the hunger strike alongside his friend Richard Chow who was in 60s with high blood pressure and diabetes. He ended up being in a wheelchair for the remainder of the hunger strike because he was too weak to stand — but his efforts were worth it.
“When we were talking to each other, we looked at each other and our eyes were glazed because we’re just just so emotional. We said we did it, he had mentioned my father, ‘We did it for, you know, we did it for your father,” recalled Tang, “[I told him ‘Kenny would be proud. That’s his brother, that, unfortunately, was one of the nine [taxi drivers that committed sucide]. And we just hugged each other and we kept on just saying we did it and we did it.”
Tang said there are many ways to continue supporting taxi drivers. He encourages New Yorkers to take a taxi once in a while (you know, instead of an Uber) and ask your driver about their life. You can also donate to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, the union that helped support taxi drivers through this all.
While Tang wouldn’t recommend doing a hunger strike, he is happy that it helped get results.
“I think I know it sounds kind of crazy, but like anything is possible, just keep going and don’t be discouraged by people that like to doubt you,” he said, “Don’t get discouraged [and know] you deserve a better life. It’s just something I’m just so happy we have the right leadership to tell us that we deserve more.”