Unions representing taxi drivers in the United States and Europe are mounting efforts to oppose the growth of Uber and other smartphone car-rider applications for linking passengers with drivers. According to a transportation union president in Belgium, “These companies claim that they are offering only a technology interface, but in our eyes they are organizing taxi services with no respect for the law. They present they are not taxi companies so they don’t have to follow the rules.” A London union official joined, “Unions are not against innovations, but if governments don’t catch up with what new technologies such as Uber are making possible, then we face a free-for-all, where all the existing passenger safeguards are lost and trained drivers are de-skilled or the whole industry is made up of part-time drivers without labor rights. Wherever they go, we will follow them, name them, shame them, and get them out of the business.”
In the U.S., organized labor has decided to back efforts to resist “these so-called ride-sharing corporations making millions of dollars off the backs of taxi drivers,” said Mateo Chekol, an AFL-CIO organizer assisting taxi worker alliances. The president of the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin, Texas, said that drivers have seen their income drop by as much as 35% in less than a year as Uber has “saturated a regulated market with an unlimited number of cars.”
With so much vitriol from labor unions to Uber, what are the hardworking taxi drivers, who are members of those unions, doing? Union taxi drivers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Madison, Wisconsin, San Jose, California, Denver, Colorado, and Washington D.C. suburbs are pooling their resources to start a taxi dispatch co-op following the Uber model of business. Even New York City, the poster-child for taxis, now has a color-coded system for taxis: yellow cabs pick up street hails, black cabs work with dispatchers, and green cabs operate as a hybrid. In fact, according to Uber, thousands of NYC cabbies have discovered “the convenience, flexibility, and economic potential the Uber app provides,” reminding me of the old adage, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.