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Reflections on UTCC’s First Year in the Struggle for Justice

By Fayez Khozindar - Posted on 15 April 2009

When I heard some drivers were receiving tickets at the O’Hare parking lot while they were praying in the shelter, I knew I had to do something about it, especially I after I received such a ticket. I went home and I wrote a few lines in the form of a petition to protest such action by the Aviation Officers at O’Hare. In the following two weeks, I collected 1,400 signatures and I submitted them to the Commissioner of Aviation during a meeting with city officials at O’Hare.

After weeks of proposals from us and counterproposals from O’Hare officials to decide where and how the cab drivers could park freely without the threat of receiving tickets or blocking the flow of traffic to the terminals, we reached an agreement. I sent a thank-you letter to the Commissioner of Aviation, Mr. Rodriguez, and he mailed me back a response thanking me for the open channels between the officials at O’Hare and the taxi drivers.

In the aftermath of this success, I realized that, through organizations and negotiations, we could reach a constructive solution with the city of Chicago. Therefore, when the American Friends Service Committee called for a meeting of activists, where the AFSC unveiled its desire to help organize the taxi drivers to establish their first democratic organization, I decided to attend that meeting. I was selected by the participants to be the interim chairman of the United Taxidrivers Community Council (UTCC).

Our name says it all. We are an inclusive organization and our Steering Committee includes all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. All are welcome to be under this umbrella because this movement is our hope and our call, because we are a social organization.

I was a member of a delegation to Senator Durbin to protest the maltreatment of Indian workers at the Signal International Shipyard in the Gulf Coast.

I was invited to speak on the Rainbow/PUSH TV program and took part in a film screening in the Chicago Cultural Center of downtown Chicago. UTCC took an active part in defending Stanley Shen, when he was brutally beaten and pressured law enforcement to implement the newly passed law that makes battery of an on-duty taxi driver a Class 3 Felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

We printed this on safety placards and distributed and distributed them to taxi drivers.

Equally important was UTCC support for the Republic Windows factory workers and their struggle to win their benefits from the factory owner. We provided them with free transportation to and from the factory and the rally downtown.

Both the success and leadership of the UTCC have attracted the public, the media, and academia, such as the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations, where Dr. Robert Bruno conducted his comprehensive study last summer, which will be published soon.

It is the first such study in the history of the Chicago taxi industry. In addition, Dr. Tracy Ludke and Peter Enger of the Northeastern University Anthropology departement are currently engaging in a qualitative study of the drivers, which, again, has never been done before in the city of Chicago.

This historic role of the United Taxidrivers Community Council cannot be ignored. To help reach our potential members, and to make our voice, loud and clear, heard by the public and to the members, we published the UTCC Voice, a monthly newsletter. In addition, I was a guest on three radio programs and other members participated in many radio programs to voice our concerns to the public.

Therefore, we think that the city of Chicago now has a potential and very important partner and the UTCC deserves a seat at the table, whether the big companies and the affiliations like it or not.

To those who have doubts about the UTCC’s future and success and for those who put obstacles in the way of uniting the taxi drivers—whether for political or personal, selfish reasons—we remind them all of this saying: “The caravan is passing through, while the dogs are barking,” because we believe that the UTCC will prevail.

It is a historic era when taxi drivers can rise up and decide that they have had enough abuse and maltreatment, and the drivers can have their own representation, and they can have a seat at the table to negotiate the rules and laws that affect their jobs and their fares, and subsequently, their lives.