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Cabbies call Emanuel ‘hypocritical’ for not increasing fares

Chicago cabdrivers are calling for fare increase. | Sun-Times

Chicago cabdrivers are calling for a fare increase. | Sun-Times

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Updated: March 26, 2014 4:53PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to raise Chicago’s minimum wage — to $9.25-an-hour immediately and $10.25 next year — while forcing 13,000 cabdrivers to work around-the-clock for less than half that amount, including tips, cabbies charged Tuesday.

One day after a City Council hearing shined a spotlight on ride-sharing companies siphoning business from taxis, “Cabdrivers for Justice” turned up the heat on Emanuel to raise cab fares for the first time since 2005.

Group leader Melissa Callahan reiterated the argument she made in a federal lawsuit against the city after Emanuel’s 2012 taxi reforms: Chicago has imposed so many regulations on the taxicab industry, cabdrivers are essentially city employees who must be paid the state’s $8.25-an-hour minimum wage.

Callahan cited a pair of studies — one by the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2009, the other by the city’s handpicked consultant in 2011 — that showed cabbies falling far short of that amount. They’re working 12-hour days, seven days a week for anywhere from $4.08 to $4.38 an hour, she said.

And that was before ride-sharing gained its current foothold, taking even more money out of cabdrivers’ pockets, Callahan said.

“Here we have our mayor talking about raising the current minimum wage to $10.25 an hour when he won’t even make sure taxi drivers are paid the current [national] minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. It’s very hypocritical. He’s talking out of both sides of his mouth,” Callahan said.

“I don’t think the mayor wants to have a federal judge find that 13,000 cabdrivers are, in fact, city employees and that the city is responsible for collective bargaining rights and all the things that go with that. But if we can’t come to an agreement and make sure cabdrivers are paid the minimum wage, that’s what will happen, and they’ll have to deal with the consequences.”

City Hall had no immediate comment.

Chicago cab fares have been frozen since an 11.7 percent increase imposed by the City Council in 2005. The last increase before that — 16.6 percent — was approved in 2000 and tied to a controversial requirement that cabdrivers answer at least one radio call each day in underserved communities.

Emanuel’s 2012 reforms raised the lease rates drivers pay — by as much as 31 percent for the most fuel-efficient vehicles — while cabbies claim they walked away virtually empty-handed.

The mayor’s only concession to drivers was to make the $1 fuel surcharge permanent and to fold it into the cost of entering a cab, known as the “flag pull.”

“We want him to give us the minimum wage by truly reforming the industry — not what he did a couple of years ago when he threw even more regulation at us and called it reform,” Callahan said.

“He could raise meter rates. He could lower lease caps. He could reduce competition because there are too many cabs on the street. He’s not being considerate as far as how ride-sharing is affecting licensed drivers and what that’s taking from them. That leads us to believe that he has no respect for the cabdrivers who have been driving for 20 or 30 years.”

Several times in recent years and months, drivers have not only petitioned the City Council for a fare hike. They also have tried to press their case by organizing a taxicab strike in Chicago.

But those strike threats have fizzled as cabbies who function as independent contractors and routinely work 12 hour days are reluctant to leave the street for even a few hours for fear of losing money.

Last fall, the chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee added insult to injury.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) placed a non-binding referendum on the March 18 ballot that will ask Chicagoans whether they favor an unspecified increase in taxicab fares.

The cab fare question was one of three referendums introduced by mayoral allies to tie up the three allotted ballot positions so nobody else can for more provocative questions like, say, asking voters whether they would support an elected school board.


Twitter: @fspielman

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