Boston Taxi Drivers Demand a Living Wage

June 27, 2008 -- Community Labor United

Community Labor United (CLU) is currently supporting the Boston Taxi Drivers Association (BTDA), affiliate of the United Steel Workers, in their push for a living wage for taxi drivers by joining the campaign and putting out a report on the cabbie’s dire situation. Titled, Running on Fumes: Boston Taxi Drivers Struggle to Make a Living, the report compiles driver cost and earnings surveys, along with an analysis of regional and national urban taxi rates to show the extreme need for a meter increase.

Approximately 3800 people try to earn a living in Boston by working as taxi drivers. Many of Boston’s taxi drivers are immigrants from every continent who are trying to support their families as they make a life in this country.Taxi drivers fall into three different categories, depending on whether they own or lease the taxi and medallion that are mandatory to do this work. The City issues the taxi ‘medallion,’ essentially a license to operate a vehicle as a taxi.

Despite the differences in their employment, these drivers share many common concerns; one major concern being unable to be classified as an employee of a taxi company.Instead, Boston taxi drivers are all either self-employed or independent contractors. As independent contractors, they don’t have access to employee benefits such as workers compensation, paid sick leave, vacation time, health insurance, or retirement.In addition, as independent contractors, taxi drivers are responsible for paying lease payments on their vehicles, fuel, repairs and maintenance, insurance and other driving costs.

As Running on Fumes shows, the initial report findings demonstrate some of the troubling aspects of an industry that has established a pattern of shifting operating costs onto drivers. This has in turn forced them to work more hours just to cover their operating costs, even as their wages decline.Yet while the cost of living has gone up 22% and gas prices have skyrocketed up 170% since 2002, the city of Boston hasn’t raised the meter rate since then.

The result: drivers’ operating expenses outstrip earnings by about two to one.Even drivers who own their own taxis and medallions have to bring in a minimum of $2.84 in receipts to earn $1.00, and the ratio is worse for drivers who lease medallions or drive shifts.Drivers in these two categories make up the overwhelming majority of Boston cabbies.

According to CLU Research Director Mary Jo Connelly, “Boston taxi drivers are crushed between rising gas prices, rising living costs and stagnant fares. They have reached a crisis point.”

In March 2008, the BTDA submitted a taxi meter rate increase request to Boston Police Department Commissioner Ed Davis.The Police Department, which regulates the taxi industry through its Hackney Carriage Rules and Regulations, has scheduled a rate hearing for June 24-26.

CLU will be joining BTDA in full force to attend and advocate for a meter rate increase long overdue for Boston taxi drivers!