Intro to the Taxi Industry in Chicago

Peter Enger, Staff Writer

The recent Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) strike has overshadowed another strike already in progress in Chicago, the cabdriver’s Strike. The issues that led to the cabdriver’s strike have not gone away, and the struggle for a living wage has not been forgotten by the United Taxidrivers’ Community Council (UTCC).
On June 2 and 9, 2012, of this year, Chicago cabdrivers went on two successive five-hour strikes, during the Monday morning rush hours of 6 to 11 A.M. These strikes were organized and led by the UTCC, Chicago’s only cabdriver organization, formed four years ago to advocate for Chicago cabdrivers’ working conditions, and build a drivers’ movement for dignity, worker’s rights, and human rights.
Some history of the taxi industry in Chicago: 90% of the Taxi Industry workforce in Chicago is made up of immigrant workers. A University of Illinois study in 2008 reported that Chicago cabdrivers come from more than 80 nations, speak more than 100 languages, and work an average of 13 hours per day, 70+ hours per week, for an average of 27 days out of a month. They work for an average pay of less than $5/hour. In the US, cabdrivers are classified as “independent contractors”, and so do not constitute a traditional workforce. This means they cannot form a union in the traditional sense, as they are not employees who work for an employer. They can form associations that can function as unions, much like professional athletes or actors have done, and cabdrivers in US cities have started to form such organizations, such as the Taxi Worker’s Alliance in New York. Similar organizations have been formed in Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and other US cities in recent years, and Chicago has been one of them.
Five years ago, a group of Chicago cabdrivers came together to form the United Taxidrivers’ Community Council, in order to strive for collective bargaining rights regarding their working conditions. Some of the issues that continue to face cabdrivers include violations of city policies regarding lease rates by owners and garages who lease the cabs to drivers, and the lack of interest of the city regulatory authorities in the largely immigrant workforces’ working conditions. This has led to repeated attempts by Chicago cabdrivers to be heard and recognized by taking such actions as strikes, demonstrations, and rallies.
The Chicago city authorities passed a series of ordinances affecting the Taxi Industry as a whole, in what was billed as an attempt to reform the industry. These ordinances were opposed by the drivers. The drivers’ main concern with the ordinance is that it offers a Lease Rate increase to the owners, while the drivers, who have been advocating for a fare increase for five of the last seven years since their last raise, received nothing. In a series of actions starting last spring, the UTCC has led campaigns and actions to highlight what they see as an unjust raise to the owners, to compensate them for investing in new green technology, when in reality the money will come directly out of the drivers’ pockets. This culminated in the two strikes in June, and a resultant offer by the city of a hearing for a fare increase held by the Transportation Committee on July 31, 2012.
The hearing came and went, with no positive result for the drivers. The drivers gave emotional and heartfelt testimony, and their pleas fell on deaf ears. The Chair of the Transportation Committee, Alderman Beale, spoke to the media afterwards and said that it was not time for a fare increase for the drivers yet, until the new lease rates had been in effect and the industry as a whole has had an opportunity to adjust to the new ordinances.
The UTCC has been in a lull since that hearing, but they are not dormant. They have had meetings with other unions in Chicago, including the CTU, in order to build support for their struggles. They have also been meeting with aldermen and other non-traditional worker’s organizations. There are many issues that face Chicago cabdrivers on a daily basis, and the UTCC recognizes that the only solution to their problems is organizing. They are planning a big membership drive through the fall and winter, and will continue to struggle for their dignity, and their worker’s rights.