Austin cabbies affiliate with AFL-CIO

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AUSTIN, Texas - It's been a good few years for taxi drivers gaining a voice on the job. Today in Austin, Texas, the National Taxi Workers Alliance (NTWA) granted its first local chapter charter since it joined the AFL-CIO. The NTWA was chartered by the AFL-CIO in 2011, with New York City and Philadelphia locals as the founding members.

Austin taxi drivers founded the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin (TDAA) to organize and collectively address drivers' concerns, from economic hardship to harassment and physical safety on the job. TDAA says drivers work up to 15 hours per day, seven days a week and yet earn less than minimum wage on many days and have no job security. While income is tightly regulated by the city through the meter, owners regularly increase lease fees charged to drivers that eat up much of their earnings.

Today at a ceremony welcoming the chapter, Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, told KUT News the affiliation will allow the drivers to "Speak with one voice, whereas before they would speak and we would assist them. And now they're actually part of organized labor, and we're excited about that."

Merga Gemada, vice president of the TDAA, said, "The bare minimum protections required for a taxi driver to have a dignified life are not available to us today because of the economic instability we work under. At the same time, drivers are not covered by workers' comp or disability and have no insurance to protect themselves in the case of an accident. Today's affiliation is also the launch for the TDAA's campaign for economic rights and dignity, in which drivers are demanding greater job security and a safety net against their precarious working conditions."

"Austin joining the national Alliance is just the beginning of a much bigger change in Texas," declared Bhairavi Desai, president of the NTWA.

Photo: Taxis at the airport in Austin. Ihwa Cheng/KUTNews.org

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