CITY HALL — Cabbies submitted a petition backing a crackdown on ride-sharing services and took the first steps to unionize Monday.
The United Taxidrivers Community Council, which has long proclaimed it's the closest thing the city has to a cabbies' union, presented a petition to the mayor Monday signed by 1,000 cabbies in support of a resolution calling for ride-sharing services to be treated like taxi companies.
During a news conference at City Hall, Fayez Khozindar, chairman of the Chicago group, signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Taxi Workers Alliance, in effect taking the first steps to form a Chicago cabbies' union.
According to group leaders, it has only about 250 members. But as part of the deal signed with the national alliance, an AFL-CIO affiliate, it aims to sign up 10 percent of the city's taxi drivers as dues-paying members within the next nine months to proceed with the unionization process.
Peter Ali Enger, the Chicago group's secretary, said there are about 12,000 licensed chauffeurs in the city, although he added that fewer than 10,000 are active with cab companies. Many of those share lease agreements on the 7,000 Chicago taxi medallions.
According to Enger, cabbies pay $600 to $800 a week in lease deals with taxi companies and haven't received a fare increase in years. The petition states that a University of Illinois study five years ago said the average wage for cabbies, as independent contractors, amounted to $4.38 an hour, "and it has only gotten worse for us since then."
"We think it's time for a massive overhaul of the whole taxi industry nationwide," Enger said. "The medallion system is broken ... and we need a new model."
Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and president of the national alliance, threw his groups' support behind Chicago cabbies, saying they are caught in a "turf war" between ride-sharing companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar and the "medallion industry."
"It's unacceptable to have conditions where thousands of taxi drivers are earning below minimum wage after laboring 60 to 70 back-breaking hours," Desai said. "If the mayor can make the time to meet with Uber and meet with the taxi-medallion industry and initiate legislation on their behalf, then certainly he can meet with the hard-working drivers of Chicago and create legislation on their behalf."
While Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee, have sponsored a resolution calling for ride-sharing services to be treated the same as taxi companies, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has submitted an ordinance that would create a separate license for what he terms "transportation network providers."
The City Council has been divided on the issue.
Chicago cabbies staged a work stoppage in July 2012 after a $1 fuel surcharge on cab fares was made permanent and the city hiked allowable taxi lease levels. Cabbies have been pushing for a fare increase for years.
The national alliance has unionized cabbies in New York City, Philadelphia and Austin, Texas.
The Mayor's Office and spokesmen for the Chicago taxi industry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.