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Worked To Death: Another Cabbie’s Life Is Lost

March 26, 2019

By Steve Wishnia

NEW YORK, N.Y.—Not again. A Lyft driver found dead in his car in Queens March 23 is apparently the ninth suicide by a city cab driver in the last 18 months.

Longtime cabbies say Uber is threatening their livelihoods.

NYC drivers continue to die attempting to earn a living behind the wheel.

Lu Tuan Wu, 49, was found in the back seat of his car, parked by a cemetery on Myrtle Avenue in Glendale. He had been a for-hire vehicle driver since November 2014 and was affiliated with Lyft, but could have also driven for other app-based companies, according to the city Taxi and Limousine Commission. 

The city medical examiner’s office told LaborPress March 25 that it had not yet determined the cause of Wu’s death, but that it appeared to be suicide. The Daily News reported that investigators believed he might have taken an overdose of over-the-counter medication.

The eight drivers who previously killed themselves—two livery drivers, one black-cab-driver, one yellow-cab driver, one Uber driver, and three yellow-cab owner-drivers—were all in severe financial distress from plummeting incomes in the industry.

“We are devastated by the news that there may be a ninth driver brother who has taken his own life due to the economic despair across the industry,” the New York Taxi Workers Alliance said in a statement posted on Twitter. “May he be in eternal peace.”

“We are devastated to learn of the death of this professional driver and we extend our deep condolences to his family, friends, and his brother and sister drivers,” said acting TLC Commissioner Bill Heinzen.

The Independent Drivers Guild blamed app-taxi companies’ greed. “App companies are making investors rich by holding down wages to the point where drivers are killing themselves,” it said in a statement. “Even now as Lyft prepares to go public with a $23 billion valuation, the company is in court fighting minimum wage for drivers. It is shameful and it must be stopped.”

The TLC has expanded its mental-health outreach efforts. It says many of its employees have received training to recognize individuals in distress, and people from its External Affairs Unit frequently visit bases, faith centers, and other places where they can talk to drivers.

It encourages “everyone who is hurting” to call the city’s mental-health hotline AT (888) NYC-WELL, or text WELL to 65173. The lines are answered 24 hours a day, and it has interpreters for more than 200 languages.

“Brothers and sisters: Help is available and every day every hour we are fighting for change,” NYTWA said on Twitter. “Drivers will win in the end. We need to work together. That means asking for help when depressed or feeling alone. And looking out for each other.”

The union is running an “economic hardship” clinic on Sundays from 4 to 8 p.m., for drivers who are having trouble with paying their rent or house mortgage, facing foreclosure from a bank, are thinking about bankruptcy, or are over 62 and can’t afford to retire.

The IDG plans to launch a wellness program later this year, which will include weekly discussion circles for drivers.

States that raised their minimum wage by $1 after adjusting for inflation saw suicide rates drop by an average of 1.9%, according to a study by the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine March 21.

The U.S. suicide rate rose from 10.5 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 13.4 per 100,000 in 2016, the study noted, and that increase has contributed to “reversals in decades-long trends of decreasing overall mortality rates.” The increase accelerated after 2006. Financial or job stress has been consistently identified as a factor, it added, particularly among middle-aged people.

Studying the 432,000 suicides between 2006 and 2016, the researchers found that “a one-dollar increase in the real minimum wage was associated on average with a 1.9% decrease in the annual state suicide rate in adjusted analyses,” and that the correlation was most consistent in the years since 2011. 

“Increasing the minimum wage could represent a strategy for addressing increases in suicide rates,” they concluded.

March 26, 2019

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