CITY HALL — More than 150 taxi drivers joined forces to form a union over the weekend, seeking what they called "a level playing field" with ride-sharing services.
According to Dave Kreisman, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, more than 150 cabbies met at Malcolm X College Saturday to pay dues as inaugural members of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500. Primary among their objectives was "to continue the fight for a level playing field" with ride-sharing firms like Uber and Lyft.
Yet Peter Enger, a cabbie and an organizer with the United Taxidrivers Community Council, which has claimed to be the Chicago cabbie's de facto union for years, said Monday that AFSCME was potentially undermining its efforts to unionize.
"They're jumping on our bandwagon, basically," Enger said.
According to Enger, the community council had already achieved "a significant amount of reforms and a seat at the table with the city," as in a recently formed task force, after several years of organizing. He said the group has 10 basic points it's pushing for, and four have already been implemented by the city, including the development of a city taxi-hailing smartphone application and a reduction in fines, adopted last year in a Taxi Cab Driver Fairness Ordinance.
Enger accused AFSCME of trying to take credit for reforms that were in the works long ago, saying he found it "alarming" and "insulting."
Enger granted that AFSCME is a "rich and powerful union," but insisted it was not suited to represent taxi drivers, who are considered not city employees, but independent contractors or cab-company employees.
By contrast, the community council has tried to join the National Taxi Workers Alliance, although Enger said they temporarily rescinded their pact last winter over concerns about a possible conflict with AFSCME within the AFL-CIO "so we could have a free hand" in Chicago.
"Do you want to join a taxi driver's union or a government worker's union?" Enger said. "We don't think it's in the best interest of cabbies" to join AFSCME.
Enger, who attended Saturday's union meeting but didn't join, allowed that the two groups can co-exist, even while lobbying for the same reforms, but he suggested the overlap might only "confuse the drivers" about which is legitimate.
AFSCME says its Cab Drivers United union is already chartered, and that it can advocate for cabbies without being formally recognized either by taxi firms or the city.
"By chartering our union local with AFSCME, we’re expanding upon the strength we've built over the last year," said Nnamdi Uwazie, a cabbie and founding member of the union. Uwazie said they were out to "build the power we need in order to provide permanent solutions to the struggles drivers face every day."
"The days where the City of Chicago feels they can treat us like we don’t matter and make decisions that affect us and our passengers without our input are over,” added Ezz Abdelmagid, a fellow cabbie and union member.
Yet Enger said the AFSCME dues, at $31 a month, were far higher than the $100 a year the community council charges or similar annual dues for union taxi drivers in New York City and Philadelphia.
While AFSCME pushes ahead, Enger said his group was still trying to enroll about 10 percent of Chicago's cabbies to gain legitimacy, with the goal set for 1,000 to 1,200 to formally create a new union.
The city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, meanwhile, said it's weighing proposals for a taxi-hailing app and that it's expected to launch this fall.
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