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Chicago Cabbies Strike

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Chicago cabbies are striking today, at least some of them are. There have been noticeably fewer cabs on the roads today but the strike hasn’t exactly brought the loop to a grinding halt. Nonetheless, cab drivers are declaring a victory. For Chicago Public Radio, Robert Wildeboer reports.


Kat Barcal caught a late train this morning so when she got to the Ogilvie station downtown she ran to a cab stand.

BARCAL: I didn’t know there was a cab strike and I’m going to be late to work.

After fidgeting and waiting at the curb for less than a minute, Barcal turns and starts walking, very very quickly the 13 blocks to her job.

BARCAL: I didn’t see any cabs coming, normally there’s a bunch lining up so I normally wait but, or I get one really fast, but today apparently not.

Christopher Glover is directing the cabs that do come by Ogilvie. He’s a traffic aide for the city. He says it’s really slow today. He points down the street to the next block.

GLOVER: In the next intersection the second lane is a cab lane, that’s where most of your cabs sit. Today you can see that lane is almost perfectly clear cause there’s no cabs sitting there. Usually we have to move the cabs keep the cabs going and something like. Right now, that whole entire lane is clear. It’s like a holiday out there.

But despite the cabbie strike, plenty of taxis are still out today. Going on strike costs taxi drivers money. They pay anywhere from $50-90 to rent a cab for the day and if the car is parked they can’t recoup that. Walter Williams pulls up to the curb outside the station and picks up a customer. Like a lot of cabbies, he didn’t really know too much about today’s strike.

WILLIAMS: Well, if they ever get organized I will do what everybody else do but until then I got to live okay?

Chicago cabbies don’t have a union or an organizing body. Furthermore, many of the drivers are part of distinct and isolated immigrant communities. All that helps to explain why participation in today’s strike is so spotty. Planning relied on word of mouth. Cabbies passed flyers to each other at garages and restaurants. The flyers simply asked drivers to park their cars July 31. There was no name on the flyers and no contact information. Eventually Melissa Callahan, one of the organizing forces behind the effort, added her name to the poster. She says drivers feel abused by Chicago’s department of consumer services, the body that regulates cabs.

CALLAHAN: The way they speak to us. The way they ticket us. The way that they’re looking, they’re out there actually looking for things that they can give us tickets for. It’s really given us the feeling that its about generating revenue for the city of Chicago and not protecting passengers which is what rules and regulations is supposed to do.

Callahan held a press conference today to bring attention to the anger many drivers feel. She called on cabs to jam the street where it was held. Only four were parked out front. But the real significance of the press conference may have come after the camera’s packed up. Ten or so cabbies in attendance, including Hamid Faris, stood in a circle talking to Prateek Sampat, a community organizer.

FARIS: Every community have to do their own effort to organize, I mean that’s my suggestion and idea. Hopefully it will work.

SAMPAT: We absolutely agree with you on that. That’s our strategy as well and that’s the strategy of most of the cab drivers out there. So we have to find the leaders, different leaders from different communities and bring them all together. We form a committee together and then we can have an organization that can represent all cab drivers.

Sampat exchanges contact info with the drivers. All of them say they are anxious to attend meetings and work to organize cabbies in the ethnic communities to which they belong. They say today’s strike was just a first step in building some political muscle. They’re promising more action and better organization in the future.

For Chicago Public Radio, I’m Robert Wildeboer.

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