News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Friday, August 24, 2007

City Taxi Drivers Prepared to Strike Sept 5-6

There are few better symbols of New York City than the yellow cab. But there may be no taxis on city streets September 5 and 6.

That is, drivers are prepared to strike if the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) continues to refuse to negotiate with taxi drivers about sweeping changes they are imposing on the city's 44,000 drivers. The TLC, backed by the Mayor, are mandating that all of the city's 13,000 yellow cabs be equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) hardware.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a union with 10,000 member-drivers, held a press conference yesterday declaring that cab drivers are prepared to strike for 48 beginning at 5:00am Sept. 5 unless the TLC agrees to negotiate a fare settlement to their concerns about the system. The Taxi Workers Alliance in February became a member of the New York City Central labor Council, representing 400 unions in the city.

The GPS system will track all taxi trips and fares. The taxi meter will not operate unless the GPS works, meaning drivers cannot work if the system is inoperative. Plus, taxis will be tracked whether they are working or not since the GPS beeps incessantly if it is not engaged while driving. The system will effectively allow the TLC to monitor taxi patterns and fares in order to adjust fares and fees, but not likely to support drivers.

New York taxi drivers work long hours under difficult working conditions, often being stiffed for fares, facing safety issues and paying high lease rates to the TLC, medallion owners and garages. High gas costs also dig into cab drivers' earnings. Few drivers actually own medallions and depend on leasing medallions or renting cars from garages at rates upward of $100 per day.

Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the Taxi Worker Alliance said, "We do not understand why the TLC is mandating an unnecessary luxury technology on cabs." Costs for installing the GPS will be passed on to drivers, and 5% of every fare will go to the taxi garages as a processing fee. Not surprisingly, the contract to provide the GPS units to the city was awarded to Ron Sherman, head of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, the garage owners' association.

Drivers are concerned about privacy intrusion from the GPS system, as well as the financial impact. One driver at the press conference held a sign reading, "GPS tracks passengers too!" Plus, the GPS cannot actually be used the way many people use GPS in their own cars. There is no navigation feature that would make the GPS useful for lost drivers or for dispatching cabs.

"We have fundamental principal issues with GPS tracking," said Desai. "With the credit card, we have issues with how it is being implemented." Credit card payment and the video monitors do not require GPS to operate. Some taxis currently utilize credit card payments without GPS tracking.

Taxi workers are asking passengers to support them. They hope to avoid a strike by reaching a resolution with the TLC. One driver rallying at the press conference asked for passengers to "talk to the city, talk to the mayor, call the TLC and ask them to negotiate a resolution to this issue."

This would be the first strike by taxi drivers since their 24-hour work stoppage in 1998.

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