N.Y. cabbies strike over GPS tracking scheme

NEW YORK — New York cabbies held a successful 24-hour strike here Oct. 22 in protest of the new global positioning system devices being mandated by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). The strike, which comes just six weeks after a previous 48-hour strike on the same issue, was called by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a member of the New York City Central Labor Council.

Subways were clogged during the morning commute and passengers at airport taxi lines stretched along the curb, as few cabs broke ranks with the strike. Mayor Michael Bloomberg initiated a contingency plan that included zone fares and multiple fares per taxi, amounting to a big bribe to scabbing cab drivers.

A noon rally outside of the lower Manhattan offices of the TLC drew over 1,000 cab drivers and their allies. Ed Ott, executive director of the Central Labor Council, spoke to the crowd, saying, “You represent a new era of the labor movement in this city. Your fight is our fight.”

Other speakers included Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, City Councilmember Robert Jackson, Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, representatives of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union and the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York.

Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the taxi workers alliance, claimed the strike as a victory, stating that 75 percent of the 44,000 city cab drivers stayed off the road. “We have to believe in our unity, because in the long run, we will win,” she said.

Unity among the racially and nationally diverse taxi workforce is running high, according to union organizers. The mayor’s office and the TLC have tried sowing disunity through public statements, bribes and backing a puppet union led by Republican Party activist and multimillionaire Fernando Mateo.

Cabbie Billy Acquaire rallied the crowd by reminding drivers of the corruption and cronyism behind the GPS deal. “Everybody knows about the ‘GPS insider’s club,’” said Acquaire. “Ron Sherman, president of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, is also a GPS vendor.” Drivers in the crowd went wild when Acquaire challenged TLC Chairman Matthew Daus to come down from his office to explain the insider contract.

The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade is the association of the large taxi garages that dominate the industry. Sherman also owns Midtown Garage. Sherman’s company Creative Mobile Technologies received the largest of the five contracts to put GPS into cabs. A number of TLC officials bagged jobs with Creative Mobile Technologies after the contracts were secured, including Jed Applebaum, who previously was assistant commissioner of safety and emissions.

Not only was the process corrupt, but cabdrivers also feel that the GPS equals a cut in pay for drivers and invades their privacy. A 5 percent service charge is deducted from every transaction, and drivers cannot earn fares when the machine doesn’t work.

Drivers plan to continue their fight through continued public pressure and a federal lawsuit, and by seeking solidarity from labor allies and passengers.

ldellapiana @cpusa.org