San Diego Cab Drivers Celebrate Holidays with a Strike

Kari Lydersen

San Diego cab drivers went on strike over the Christmas holidays, taking about a fifth of the city’s taxi fleet out of service during the busiest time of the year. Drivers working for or affiliated with Yellow Cab, the city’s largest cab company, went on strike Dec. 21 over escalating lease costs that can leave them making less than $20 a day. Many of the drivers actually work for small companies that use Yellow Cab’s dispatch service.

About 200 of the city’s 1,000 cabs participated in the strike, according to reports, though Yellow Cab officials cited a much lower number. Drivers have been negotiating with Yellow Cab to reduce weekly lease rates, shared by two drivers, from $865 to $600. (Read more on this here and here.)

At least one independent owner who leases to drivers had lowered his weekly rate to $700 because of the strike, which continued throughout the week. (Read more here).

Organizing and striking are challenging prospects for cab drivers, since most work independently, work long hours and lose money for every minute they have a cab leased but are not driving. Drivers in New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago, among other cities, have pulled off strikes of varying success in recent years.

As covered previously in this blog (here and here), the United Taxidrivers Community Council in Chicago has an ongoing campaign to improve drivers’ wages and working conditions, including a strike demanding a fare increase around Thanksgiving last year.

New York City drivers struck during Fashion Week in 2007 over plans to force the city’s 13,000 drivers to use GPS devices, which drivers would pay for. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance called this both an unfair cost and an infringement on privacy and civil rights, since the units could be used to monitor taxis’ whereabouts at all times. (Read more here).

In San Diego, as in Minneapolis-St. Paul and other cities, a large proportion of cab drivers are Somali immigrants. Somali community groups and networks played a key role in the San Diego campaign. In most cities, cab drivers are disproportionately immigrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa, with fewer Latinos than other immigrant-heavy industries, likely because of documentation issues related to drivers’ licenses.

Hence language and cultural barriers can mean additional challenges in driver organizing, though as with the Somalis in San Diego, ethnic ties and communities can also lend strength and structure to organizing efforts.

Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based reporter, author and journalism instructor, leading the Social Justice & Investigative specialization in the graduate program at Northwestern University. She is the author of Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.
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