Taxi travails

The economics of cab driving are fascinating. Yesterday I talked to Ronald Blount and Steve Chervenka, two longtime Philadelphia cabbies, about the idea of cabbies getting workers' compensation and today my article about it is in the Philadelphia Inquirer's business section. Tomorrow they'll be in City Hall, Room 400 from 10 a.m. to noon in a hearing on that issue.

As part of the reporting I talked to a quasi-union taxi cab drivers group in San Francisco. It's an organization loosely affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, a union. The reason it's loosely affiliated is that the organization is working to organize cab drivers, but hasn't organized them yet. 

Anyway, the woman who answered the phone there, a board member, told me that after a couple of court cases, cab drivers in San Francisco are considered employees, not independent contractors. Nonetheless, she said, cab companies get the drivers to sign "contracts" saying they are independent contractors. They do this, even though, they are also required by law to post a notice in their garages saying that cabbies are entitled to workers' compensation. 

How do they get away with it? Pretty simple. Many cab drivers are recent immigrants, who may be coming from countries where workers have very few rights, she said.  Secondly, cab drivers turn over frequently, so there aren't enough longtime drivers to teach the newer ones about their rights. And thirdly, because the cab companies can control fares and other important aspects on the job, even longtime drivers may not stand up for their rights, if they actually know them.