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Chicago Cabdrivers: Building Alliances in the Community


Chicago Cabdrivers! My brothers and sisters from many nations! We in the United Taxidrivers Community Council have been hard at work to position our organization of cabdrivers here in Chicago to affect positive social change for our working, driving and living conditions. In the process, we have received much support from the American Friends Service Committee, our ally in the community.

We have worked hard to reach out to the many cabdriver communities from many nations who make up our industry here in Chicago.

We have reached out to governmental authorities here in Chicago to achieve working, respectful and collaborative relationships with them to achieve our aims and address our issues.

And lastly, but not least, we have reached out to other cabdriver organizations around the country to form valuable relationships with drivers in other cities.

In all social movements to achieve social change, building partnerships with like-minded organizations and those with similar beliefs and goals is crucial to ultimate success. We have seen this feature of movements worldwide in history over and over again.

The UTCC has always been aware that we will need a broad base of support in the wider society in order to achieve our goals. Cabdrivers in general have a strange and unique position in the lower class of esteem as seen by the government and the people. In no other workforce does one bad experience with an individual worker seem to taint and condition and prejudice a person against the whole workforce.

We hear it over and over again, in hearings, in the media, and sometimes from our passengers. “I got in a cab and it was dirty. I got in a cab and it smelled. I got in a cab and the driver was on the cell phone. I got in a cab and he didn’t know the way. So all cabdrivers are dirty, they smell, they are on the phone, they don’t know the way, and they all need to be fined and reformed and regulated even more.”

This is not logical, it is unfair, it is discriminatory and prejudiced, and no other workforce is seen this way. If a plumber came to your house and he smelled, would you call up the City or the plumber’s union and say that all plumbers smell and they should all be fined and the industry regulated and reformed so they all have to take baths every day and prove it to do their jobs? Of course not! The idea is ridiculous!

So why do people see cabdrivers this way? What we need to do is to work on improving public perception of cabdrivers, to humanize us. And we also need to do a better job of reaching out to our riding public—to provide better and more personal service, to humanize ourselves in their eyes.

Our vision is a city in which all Chicagoans stand arm to arm with cabdrivers in solidarity! We are working hard to make this happen through working in coalitions. We are currently involved in two coalitions- The first is Communities for Equitable Olympics 2016 (CEO 2016), a coalition which is fighting for a legally binding Community Benefits Agreement tied to Chicago’s Olympic bid.

CEO 2016 is lead by the Grassroots Collaborative and Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, amongst other partners. UTCC’s community ally, AFSC, a founding member of the Grassroots Collaborative has made this partnership possible. This coalition is composed primarily of south and west side groups which are located in the neighborhoods which will be most affected by Olympic-related developments.

History tells us that cities which have hosted the Olympics in the past have left behind working people who live in neighborhoods near these developments. Cabdrivers, too, have been left behind as cities have sometimes been flooded with medallions to meet demand during the Olympics.

Cities are generally left with more taxis than are needed after the Olympics are over. As Chicago already has a higher per capita number of taxis than any other city in the US, this would be an absolute disaster. Here, cabdrivers, as well as South-Siders share a common interest, and so by building a coalition with them, we are now united by the bonds of our struggle.

Another example of coalition building work deals with building alliances with workers who are similarly classified as taxicab drivers- “contingent workers”, or workers who do not fall clearly within the traditional categories of employees or independent contractors. An example of this type of worker is a day laborer, who may stand at a corner to be picked up by a different construction company everyday, with little control over his pay or his hours.

We have been at the table with “Workers Centers” who are organizing day laborers and other such contingent workers, who are mostly immigrants. One of these type of organizations is the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Workers’ Issues who is working with mechanics at Chicago Carriage Cab Company to help them secure overtime wages.

The table at which we meet these of groups is the AFL-CIO’s nationwide initiative to build solidarity with Workers’ Centers and other non-unionized contingent workers, like taxi drivers. In cities such as New York, this has led to the affiliation of the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance (NYTWA) with the city’s Central Labor Council. While NYTWA is operating as a 501(c)3 charitable non-profit rather than a traditional union, they have been welcomed, while keeping their structure and leadership intact.

In Chicago, we have already seen the process of building solidarity bear fruits: At one of these meetings we met Laurie Burgess, a seasoned labor lawyer who serves on the AFL-CIO Labor Lawyer Coordinating Committee. Burgess has become a tireless ally for our cause, and has signed on as General Counsel of UTCC, and will lead UTCC’s legal team.

There are so many more examples: The Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs was a key ally to help us secure a victory in Skokie’s taxi parking ban issue, after threatened Housing Discrimination complaints. The Stanley Shen case, which was one of the first tests of a new law that raised the penalty of attacking cabdrivers to a felony, also saw victory greatly due to the involvement of the Asian American Institute and the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

We in the UTCC are looking forward to form broader based alliances with like-minded socially progressive organizations in the future. Workers groups, progressive citizens groups, neighborhood organizations, environmentalists, health-care reformers, education reformers- the more allies we have in all of our struggles for civil and human rights, the more likely we will all achieve success for our endeavors sooner.