The New York Taxi Workers' Alliance was founded in 1998 by members of the Lease Drivers Coalition (LDC), an advocacy project of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV). The union, led by Executive Director Bhairavi Desai since its inception, fights for structural change in the taxi driving industry, regularly ranked by the Department of Labor as one of the most dangerous job in the country. The NYTWA supports drivers through legal advocacy, health education, and numerous campaigns fighting for safety and economic justice for taxi workers. Because taxi drivers are considered independent contractors, the union cannot engage in collective bargaining.
Despite this limitation, the NYTWA uses legislation, work-stoppage strikes, demonstrations, and petitions to affect change. They mobilize drivers and build membership through meetings, outreach and fairs in airport waiting lots, industry research, organizational partnerships, and assisting drivers with tickets and fines. The NYTWA claims it has increased taxi drivers' incomes by 35%-45%, including advocating for the implementation of the first-ever Living Wage standard for US taxi drivers in 2004.
In May 1998, four months after their formation, the NYTWA organized a 24-hour strike of thousands of licensed taxi drivers in protest of proposed Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) regulations that would quadruple liability-insurance costs, increase fines and probationary periods for new drivers, and increase the frequency of drug and alcohol testing for drivers. The NYTWA demanded a moratorium on the new rules, an in-depth study of the taxi industry, and an end to double ticketing (the practice of issuing multiple tickets at the same time for similar driving infractions). Though the strike did not affect immediate change on TLC regulations, it was influential because it solidified the NYTWA as a union and was able to bring together workers from a notoriously segmented group with no central point of organization.
Early organizing activity for the union includes City Council Bill 472, which fought against TLC codes of conduct for drivers (primarily regarding license revoking procedures) which the council ruled to be "onerous" on drivers. Another early campaign fought against the long wait times drivers faced at the Queen Boulevard TLC Office, which took valuable time out of a drivers' average 60-hour work week. The NYTWA focused their efforts in the early 2000s on studying the impact of September 11, 2001 on taxi drivers and New York City immigrants and subsequent relief efforts (including federal disaster assistance for taxi drivers).
During the mid-2000s, the union focused on the detrimental effects new taxi technology (malfunctioning credit card machines, the loss of 5% on fares from credit card use, and GPS tracking) had on driver earnings and individual rights. They also worked to raise the wages of drivers through economic justice campaigns, which fought for fare increases, caps on the cost of leasing cars and medallions, and for a fuel surcharge on all fares.
Union activity in the late 2000s concentrated on health initiatives; Intro 705, a bill which allowed drivers to choose credit card machine operators; and the Taxi Driver Protection Act, which called for heavier penalties for assaults on drivers and a sticker in each taxi warning of these penalties.
The NYTWA also spends much of its resources on providing discounted or pro bono legal, financial management, and health services for its members. The NYTWA claims a membership of 16,000 drivers and was voted into the New York City Central Labor Council in 2007 as the first non-collective bargaining agent member of a Central Labor Council in the US. Together with the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, the union hosted a conference of international taxi unions in 2007, which resulted in the creation of the National Taxi Workers Alliance, now headquartered at the NYTWA.