CHICAGO — More than a thousand delegates to the 41st AFSCME International Union Convention hit the streets Wednesday in support of 12,000 Chicago cab drivers organizing as part of AFSCME Council 31. Delegates converged across the street from City Hall to show solidarity with the drivers, who are part of Cab Drivers United-AFSCME Council 31.
AFSCME International Union President Lee Saunders joined Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez, Illinois AFSCME Council 31 leaders Henry Bayer and Roberta Lynch, along with national civil rights leader Rev. William Barber, in addressing the rally. Cab Drivers United members David Mangum and Maxwell Akenten also spoke.
A report issued by AFSCME last month documented that Chicago’s 12,000 cab drivers on average are losing $7,531 annually as a result of regulations enacted in 2012 by City Hall. Increased lease rates, reduced work hours and increased credit card fees are among the regulatory changes that have drastically reduced the income of the drivers, most of whom work 60-70 hours a week for less than the federal minimum wage.
“Driving a taxi cab has never been an easy job,” Mangum told the rally. “But now it’s unbearable … they’ve put the squeeze on cab drivers.”
Drivers began organizing themselves into Cab Drivers United in the spring and have been rapidly gaining membership. Wednesday’s rally is another step forward in their campaign to win a voice in the regulatory process that controls their livelihood.
“They will be more powerful with AFSCME, and AFSCME will be more powerful with them!” AFSCME International President Lee Saunders told the delegates. “So let’s join their fight! Let’s stand together! Let’s join hands in solidarity and unite with the cabdrivers of Chicago!” “My brothers and sisters, thank you for standing with us in our fight for justice,” driver Atenken told the crowd. “We are AFSCME. Know that we will always stand with you, too. We will not forget this day.”