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AFL-CIO’s Trumka and Taxi Drivers March

April 27, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
For the first time in over 60 years, the AFL-CIO issued a charter to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance in October. On Thursday, April 26, NYC taxi drivers and drivers from other cities converged at Queens Medallion Leasing in Long Island City to protest against the company’s notorious practice of overcharging drivers on leasing fees for the cars they drive to transport passengers.

As the workers were chanting on the bull horn, the owner and an associate of QML were spotted across the street taking photos of the drivers in front of the premises. LaborPress asked the owner, Basil Messados, to respond to the taxi drivers’ protests, but he refused to comment.

Just before AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka appeared to march with the drivers from QML to another taxi garage notorious for unnecessarily charging drivers late fees on their lease payments, a driver unsympathetic to the union’s cause handed out flyers produced by the Coalition for DOV (Driver Owned Vehicles) Drivers, which is critical of the union, claiming that the union wants to put DOV drivers out of business.

But many of the drivers supportive of the union ripped up the flyers.

Before introducing Trumka, Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of NYTWA, explained some of the hardships that drivers endure at QML.

“Even after a driver has paid off two or three years’ worth of car payments, QML management takes away the medallion, leaving the car worthless and the driver without a job. Yet, they’ll turn around and charge $60,000 for the same car valued at only $30,000 to another driver.”

She also noted, “In September we asked for rooftop advertising for our drivers in order to give the drivers just a meager $100 per month that they could use to pay for their vehicles upfront. But brokers like QML had the audacity to say that if they had to part with $100 per month, they would go bankrupt!”

She added, “We’re here today to say that taxi workers are united like never before and proud to be standing next to the president of the American labor movement.”

Trumka, who’s in town to attend two fundraising events (one being held for NYTWA at the United Federation of Teachers headquarters on Thursday evening), told the taxi workers about his early coal mining experiences.

“The coal companies made us pay for our tools and would only pay us for the coal we dug and stored in a wagon. And even then they would try to cheat us on the amount of coal in the wagons. But when the union organized us, we got better wages and changed the industry.”

He continued, “We’re putting QML on notice today that every worker in the federation stands with you until this industry is changed.”

Trumka told LaborPress of the significance of the taxi alliance’s charter with the labor federation.

“It was a step out for us. It’s the first charter of its kind issued in over 60 years and we issued it because of the glaring exploitation of the mostly immigrant workers driving New Yorkers where they need to go.”

“The other message we’re sending today is that the City’s taxi commission has to start enforcing its own rules and start looking out for drivers and not just the lease owners,” said Trumka.

Bill Lindauer, who drove a NYC taxi for 30 years and is a campaign coordinator for the NYTWA, said that conditions are bad for the drivers in part because the Taxi and Limousine Commission has been very lax in enforcing its own regulations on garage owners.

The commission sets a lease rate cap for drivers that garage owners or brokers cannot overcharge. The problem is, according to Lindauer, is that the lease rates apply daily, rather than weekly. At $105 per day, drivers sometimes have to work 12-hour shifts, six or seven days a week just to earn enough beyond their rate payments.

“On top of the rates, drivers have to pay for gas that is no longer as cheap as it used to be. The treatment of taxi workers echoes that of the early 1900s when labor had no voice,” said Lindauer.

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