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AFSCME Helping Chicago Cab Drivers Push For Greater Voice

by John Byrne, Chicago Tribune reporter  |  June 12, 2014

The post below is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on June 11, 2014.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is joining up with Chicago cab drivers to try to help give cabbies a stronger voice in negotiating with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration to raise fares, lower costs and push for greater regulation of the nascent ride-share industry.

According to AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall, the new group seeks to present a strong, unified voice that will make it tougher for city officials to ignore taxi drivers when setting fees and policies.

"This isn’t a traditional organizing campaign," Lindall said in an email. "This is about building a new kind of organization through which cab drivers can come together, be heard and have a seat at the table whenever and wherever decisions are made that affect them, their working lives and their ability to make a living."

Cabbies tried repeatedly in recent years to organize themselves and force the city to take them seriously, without much luck. A series of rush hour strikes by cabbies lead by the United Taxi Drivers Community Council in 2012 failed to convince city officials to raise cab fares.

According to an AFSCME report on the state of the cab industry in Chicago, there are 12,763 cabbies currently licensed by the city, with roughly 800 of them classified as "owner-operators" who purchased their own medallions. The rest lease taxis from cab companies big and small, making it difficult to organize cabbies in the traditional sense, Lindall said.

Ismail Onay, who owns his own cab medallion and is joining the AFSCME effort, said cabbies need to unify their voices as quickly as possible to push back at the local and state level against regulations of the ride-share industry that he said give those drivers an unfair advantage over traditional cabbies.

"We have global companies pushing ride-share," Onay said. "Those companies are welcome, but the rules need to be fair. Right now it isn't a level playing field."

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