precarious labor

In 2013, I was a member of a research team which conducted the first large-scale survey of taxi drivers in San Diego, California. We administered over 300 surveys and conducted over 30 semi-structured interviews with drivers throughout the city. You can download the policy report, published with the Center for Policy Initiatives based out of San Diego, CA, here. I also co-authored an academic article with Dr. Jill Esbenshade and Elizabeta Shifrin in Labor History, published in 2019.

To highlight a few of the main findings:

  1. Almost 90% of licensed taxi drivers in San Diego are “lease drivers,” who rent the cars from individual or business owners, usually by the week.
  2. San Diego taxi drivers earn a median of less than $5 per hour. They must drive for more than 70 hours a week to earn what a minimum-wage worker makes in 40 hours.
  3. Virtually no drivers have job-related health coverage or workers’ compensation insurance, and few are covered for injuries in case of accidents. While they lack employee benefits, drivers also are denied the business practices standard for independent contractors.
  4. The current system encourages taxi drivers to drive when tired or sick, and allows lax vehicle maintenance, putting public health and safety at risk.
  5. City permits are re-sold on the open market without regulation, for tens of thousands of dollars more than their purchase price. As a result, drivers pay high lease prices and are blocked from becoming owner-operators.

On the day we published the report, we held a press conference with local press outlets, city councilwoman Marty Emerald, local drivers, and the research team. I spoke at the press conference about the project, and you can watch the video here.

The report received local press, both in the initial release and with changes to taxi policy in the following years.