Workers strike against corruption and inequality in Panama

In Panama, 5000 construction workers working on the massive expansion of the Panama Canal  walked of the job on November 24 and joined campesinos, indigenous people, educators, and other social justice activists in a 24-hour national strike.

The strike was called by the National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights (FRENADESO, the Spanish acronym) to protest a number of social grievances including systemic corruption in the courts and other government bodies, the lack of access to drinking water for many Panamanians, a proposal to increase the eligibility age for social security benefits, and anti-union policies of the government and the country’s business class.

Saul Mendez, a leader of SUNTRACS, the construction workers’ union, which describes itself as a class conscious, revolutionary union, told Agence France Presse that the strike shut down 90 percent of the work being done on the canal’s expansion.

Mendez also said that the strikers were demanding justice for two SUNTRACS leaders shot and killed by members of the National Police in 2007 and 2008.

The police officer who killed SUNTRACS’ Osvaldo Lorenzo in 2007 was convicted of the killing and sentenced to 20 years in prison but was set free by the courts without having to complete his sentence.

In 2008 Al Iromi Smith, another SUNTRACS’ leader, was shot in the back by a member of the National Police as Smith was helping comrades get medical attention after they were wounded by police during a union protest.

In October, Smith’s assailant was acquitted even after he admitted to Smith’s slaying.

SUNTRACS’ leaders blame a corrupt court system that fosters collusion between the courts and the police for the court’s failure to punish Smith’s and Lorenzo’s killers

But judicial corruption in Panama runs deeper than that.

According to Transparency International, Panama’s judicial system “faces serious challenges to its integrity.”

Researchers at Council of Hemispheric Affairs report that Panama’s former president Ricardo Martinelli, currently under criminal investigation by Panama’s anti-corruption prosecutor, stacked the country’s with judges loyal to him rather than to the rule of law.

Some of these appointees have been using their positions for self enrichment.

In May, the former president of Panama’s Supreme Court, Alejandro Moncado was found guilty of taking bribes. Another Supreme Court justice Victor Benavides has been suspended from the court and is under investigation for taking bribes.

Moncado was also implicated in a scandal involving Martinelli, who, among other things, is being investigated for skimming millions of dollars from the country’s national food assistance program.

While Moncado has been enriching himself through bribes and embezzlement, many Panamanians lack the bare necessities of life such as access to drinking water.

According to the University of California Berkeley Center for Latin American Studies, in a country of 3.8 million people, 840,000 Panamanians lack 24-hour access to drinking water, and 600,000 have no access at all.

The lack of access to potable water is particularly acute in rural areas where campesinos (farmworkers and small farm owners) and indigenous people live.

The widespread lack of access to potable water persists despite the fact that Panama’s economy is growing at one of the highest rates in the world.

The World Bank reports that between 2001 and 2013, average annual GDP growth was 7.2 percent, “more than double the regional average.” In 2014, the Panamanian economy grew by 6.2 percent and should be only slightly lower in 2015.

Despite this growth, 22 percent of the population still lack full-time access to drinking water.

The skewed benefits of the country’s growth, the widespread corruption, and the disregard of basic labor rights fueled the outrage that led to the November 24 strike.

The question now is what comes next?

Protest like the November 24 will likely continue. Telesur reports that FRENADESO plans another strike on December 4 “against neoliberal policies initiated by the government.”

FRENADESO also is building a political movement.

On the day before the strike, FRENADESO leaders presented a resolution to the country’s Electoral Tribunal aimed at getting its political arm, the Front for Democracy (FAD), on the ballot for the 2019 elections.

La Estrella de Panama reports that the Electoral Tribunal recognized FAD as a political party.

Genaro Lopez, a leader of FRENADESO and a former leader of SUNTRACS, was FAD’s presidential candidate in 2014. The party disbanded after Lopez received only 1 percent of the vote.

But FAD has reconstituted itself and will now try to build a base among people disenchanted with the country’s corruption and lack of equality.

San Antonio Hyatt workers ratify first collective bargaining agreement

Workers at two Hyatt hotels on San Antonio’s Riverwalk on November 18 ratified their first collective bargaining agreement.

The new agreement is the culmination of a six-year organizing campaign conducted by UNITE HERE, the hospitality industry’s largest union.

The new five-year agreement covers 500 workers at San Antonio’s Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Regency, both of which are located on the Riverwalk, where hotels, restaurants, bars, and other entertainment destinations line both banks of the San Antonio River as it meanders through the city’s downtown.

The new agreement includes pay increases in each year of the agreement, the reinstatement of about 100 jobs that had been outsourced, and protections for immigrant employees.

The agreement also includes language that ensures that tipped workers at the hotels get to keep a fair share of the tips left by patrons.

In December 2014, the workers took advantage of a neutrality agreement that the union and Hyatt negotiated in 2013 and voted to join UNITE HERE Local 23.

“These are the first hotels on the San Antonio Riverwalk to have the union, and to have union contracts,” said Danna Schneider, Local 23 organizer, to WOAI radio.

Management also seemed pleased that the two sides had reached an agreement.

“We are pleased to reach an agreement with UNITE HERE and to move forward with our associates to provide the authentic hospitality our guests have come to expect,” said Ed Bucholtz, general manager of Grand Hyatt San Antonio. “We remain committed to providing a caring work environment for our associates, which includes a positive workplace environment and competitive wages and benefits.”

But the relationship between Hyatt and UNITE HERE has not always been so amicable.

The two sides in 2009 were involved in bitter contract disputes in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

In Chicago, the collective bargaining agreement between Hyatt and the union expired without a new agreement in place.

The union was seeking protections against outsourcing, improved safety requirements, and relief from dangerous workloads.

The union also wanted to include in the agreement provisions that would make it easier for workers at non-union Hyatt hotels to join the union and that would allow union workers to demonstrate their solidarity with non-union hotel workers who wanted to join a union.

At the same time that UNITE HERE was bargaining with Hyatt in Chicago, it was bargaining with other unionized hotels in the Chicago area.

It managed to secure agreements with the other hotels, but Hyatt refused to sign off.

UNITE HERE ran into the same problems in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 2010, the union and Hyatt couldn’t reach an agreement in Honolulu.

Even though there was no agreement, workers continued to work without a contract.

In 2010, UNITE HERE organized a national day of action in 15 cities to demand that Hyatt agree to a fair contract for its employees.

In 2011, the relationships between Hyatt and its union workers reached its nadir when on a July day when temperatures reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, management at Park Hyatt Chicago turned on heat lamps near sidewalks where UNITE HERE members were picketing the hotel during a one-day strike.

In September, UNITE HERE members conducted a one-week strike against Hyatt hotels in the four cities where contracts had expired.

The union also called for a boycott against the 17 Hyatt hotels where contracts had expired.

The union in 2012 called for a worldwide boycott of Hyatt.

Things came to a head in 2013 when Penny Pritzker, a billionaire who owns the largest stake in Hyatt, was nominated for US Secretary of Commerce, a cabinet position in the Obama administration.

UNITE HERE in May 2013 called on Senators to reject the nomination.

Pritzker was confirmed in June, but in July, Hyatt and the union ended the four-year dispute by signing an agreement that established a framework for new collective bargaining agreements in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. The agreement included a process that would allow Hyatt workers in non-union hotels to join a union without company interference.

A year and half later, San Antonio Hyatt workers reaped the benefits of that agreement when they join Local 23.

Eleven months later, the workers had their first contract.

“This is a great moment for San Antonio,” said Schneider to the San Antonio Express News,  “I’m so proud that this agreement, and this partnership with Hyatt, sets the bar for what dignified hotel work should look like in this city.”

Strike at IKEA store in Massachusetts

Workers at the Stoughton, Massachusetts IKEA store on November 16 held a one-day strike after IKEA management refused to recognize their union.

“Instead of doing what’s right, IKEA has chosen to fight hard-working employees,” said Chris DeAngelo, one of the striking workers. “That is wrong. All we want is the chance to earn a better life. We wish IKEA would honor its own policy and respect workers’ rights.”

The strike took place in the store’s Good Flow In Department, the department responsible for implementing IKEA’s business strategy of getting goods from suppliers to store shelves as quickly as possible.

As a result of the strike, newly arrived goods remained unloaded in trucks outside the store.

In a media release, the workers’ union, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCU), said that the strike shut down normal store operations.

The strike began Monday morning at 2:00 A.M. when the workers walked off their jobs and began picketing the store.

The previous week, workers in the Good Flow In department presented a union authorization petition signed by 75 percent of the department’s 33 workers and requested that management recognize their union and bargain collectively.

At that point, IKEA could have acknowledged that an overwhelming majority of the department’s workers wanted a union and wanted to bargain collectively over wages and working conditions.

Instead, the company refused, sparking the strike,

IKEA, a company based in Sweden with stores and distribution centers all over the world, promotes itself as a socially responsible corporation committed to social and environmental justice.

IKEA’s internal code of conduct states that employees have the right join a union of their choice and bargain collectively, but IKEA management in Stoughton has actively worked to prevent workers from joining a union.

“The (strike action) highlights a failure to follow IKEA Group policies, which explicitly state support for the right of workers to bargain collectively and join a union of their choice in the company’s internal code of conduct,” said UFCW’s media statement.

IKEA’s anti-union actions began almost as soon as the workers began talking about forming a union.

In June, the National Labor Relations board charged IKEA with interfering with the Stoughton workers organizing attempts.

“My co-workers and I came together to make IKEA better because we love our jobs and we believe in the company’s values,” said IKEA worker Nancy Goetz in June after the NLRB charged IKEA. “In other countries, IKEA works collaboratively with the workers’ unions to solve problems. I never thought that IKEA would allow supervisors to intimidate and interrogate us. I expected more from IKEA. I expected that my rights would be respected.”

In October, the NLRB reached a settlement with IKEA that required the company to post information on the store’s premises informing workers of their right to join a union.

One of the grievances that led to the union organizing campaign is the lack of  job security at the store.

“I’ve been here for two years, and I’ve seen them fire a lot of people for no reason,” said Veronica Cabral to the Brockton Enterprise. “I want job security because I have a family to take care of.”

Workers consider the company’s arbitrary attendance policy that does little to recognize family and life commitments outside of work as the main culprit for the many unfair firings at the store.

Shawn Morrison told the Enterprise that minor violations of the attendance policy can easily mount up and lead to a worker being fined.

To make matters worse, a fired worker has no right to appeal the firing even if it is capricious and without merit.

The Stoughton IKEA workers are the first workers at an IKEA store in the US to join a union.

Workers at IKEA’s furniture plant in Danville, Virginia and at two IKEA distribution centers–one in Perryville, Maryland and the other in Savannah, Georgia–have joined the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Truthout reports that workers IKEA stores in College Park, Maryland and Seattle, Washington are also trying to form unions and that in response to these organizing drives, IKEA has hired Jackson Lewis, the most prominent union avoidance firm in the US.

Ratification of pact between GM and UAW remains on hold

The ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement between the United Autoworkers (UAW) and GM has been put on hold.

The union and the company on November 1 reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year collective bargaining agreement, The union membership voted in favor of the agreement by a 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent margin.

But 59.2 percent of the skilled trades workers–electricians, tool and die makers, millwrights, etc.–voted against it.

When a majority of skilled trades workers vote no on a contract, the UAW constitution requires that union leaders meet with the skill trades workers to learn their reason for voting no.

After the consultations, the UAW executive board must decide whether to affirm ratification or return to the bargaining table.

UAW President Dennis Williams on November 12 announced the union’s executive board’s decision.

“Based on this feedback from the skilled trades membership, I have determined that further discussion with the company was needed,” said Williams. “Such discussions are currently taking place.”

The union and the company agreed to extend the current collective bargaining agreement until November 20, the new deadline for the union to announce ratification of the agreement.

During the meetings, skilled trades workers told union officials that they were disappointed that the $60,000 retirement incentive given to eligible production workers wasn’t extended to skilled trades workers.

They also said that the new agreement doesn’t do enough to keep GM from outsourcing their work, it doesn’t provide for enough badly needed new apprentices, and it allows GM to continue its restructuring of skilled trade work.

One of the management trends in the auto industry is to reduce labor costs by restructuring skilled trades work.

In some cases, this means cross training skilled trade workers in other crafts.

For many, such restructuring is an insult to their professionalism and their craftsmanship.

As one worker put it, GM would like its skilled trades workers to be general handymen rather than master craftsmen.

“They’re watering down the skills we have,” said Darryl Sutton, who voted against the contract, to The Detroit News.

Another way to put it is that GM like other auto companies is in the process of deskilling the skilled trades.

Deskilling has a number of consequences for those affected. It puts them in a position of having to perform work for which they have not been properly trained, which could lead to heightened safety risks and less than optimal job performances.

As deskilling causes their crafts to be merged, the workers seniority rights and shift preferences could be affected as well.

Skilled trade workers also are concerned that the new agreement doesn’t go far enough to protect their jobs from outsourcing.

GM already outsources building repair and maintenance work, and as GM implements new technology, it is outsourcing some of the maintenance and repair work associated with the new technology.

The new contract establishes a working group of management and skilled trades representatives to review the introduction of new technology and to determine whether repair and maintenance associated with it should be conducted by union workers or outsourcing contractors.

For many skilled trades workers, this measure doesn’t go far enough to protect union jobs.

One skilled trade worker in a Facebook post said that the main reason he voted no was because the agreement,”allows GM to outsource all traditional trades work.”

Another concern raised by skilled trades workers is that the new contract promises too few new apprenticeship positions.

According to the union’s summary of the new contract, GM will create 1300 new skilled trade positions of which at least 400 will be new apprenticeships.

There are 8500 skilled trades workers at GM, about 16 percent of the workforce. More than half of these workers are old enough and have enough service time to retire.

It’s only a matter of not-too-much time before these workers retire. Skilled workers are concerned that the new skilled positions and apprentices designated in the contract won’t be enough to keep up with this kind of attrition.

Furthermore, GM in the past reduced the number of skilled trade positions.

The dearth of skilled trade positions both in the present and in the future will make it easier for the company to outsource more work.

During the meetings taking place now between the UAW and GM, these non-economic issues will be on the table.

But what won’t be on the table are economic issues. No matter how the talks turn out, there won’t be any change to the pay, bonuses, and other economic issues such as the $60,000 retirement incentive for eligible production employees negotiated in new collective bargaining agreement.

Before the UAW announced that it would restart talks with GM, skilled trade workers who voted against the agreement were hoping that GM and the union leadership take their concerns seriously.

“The skilled trades side of the agreement is a concessionary agreement,” said Dennis Ybarra, a GM millwright who voted no, to The Detroit News. “I would hope that (the union leadership) would go back to General Motors. There are some serious issues on the skilled trades side.”

Strikers: “We want a better life;” raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour

Thousands of fast food, home care, and other low-wage workers in 270 cities across the US on November 10 joined the largest unfair labor practices strike yet in the campaign to increase the US minimum wage to $15 an hour.

They were joined by FedEx workers, Las Vegas parking valets, short-haul truck drivers at ports, and many other who support a living wage paycheck for all.

In Oakland, California, strikers and their supporters chanted, “We want a better life,” which succinctly expressed the desires of the strikers and the motivation behind the Fight for $15 movement whose growing momentum has vaulted it into a national political issue.

Speakers at rallies supporting the strike described the Fight for $15 as a civil rights issue, and at several rallies, speakers talked about the connections between the Fight for $15 and the Black Lives Matter and the immigrant rights movements.

In Milwaukee, Fight for $15 strikers and their supporters were joined by Black Lives Matter and Voces de la Frontera Action, an immigrants rights group, in a march to and rally at the Republican  presidential debate. A banner at the front of the march, expressed the solidarity of the marchers. It read,




“What you saw last night was three of the most important social movements in this country coming together into one movement that puts forward a common agenda and a vision of hope, ” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera Action, in a statement issued the day after the march and rally.

Fight for $15 organizers see the successful strike and the attention that it gathered as an important step toward politicizing the fight for a decent minimum wage.

A banner at the top of the Fight for $15 website has this message for federal, state, and local candidates running in an election: “Come get my vote.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for President, got the message.

Sanders spoke at a rally of federal contract workers. These low-wage workers, who clean federal buildings and work in the dining facilities that feed US House members and senators,  joined the nationwide Fight for $15 strike and have been engaged in an ongoing effort to organize a union.

“People in this country who work 40 hours a week deserve a living wage,” said Sanders to the strikers as he held an umbrella to keep the rain off his head. “And workers all over this country deserve the right to organize a union.”

In California, supporters of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour took another step toward making the fight a political movement.

On November 9, the day before the Fight for $15 strike, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced that it had gathered 500,000 signatures on a petition for a ballot initiative that will give California voters a chance to decide whether to make $15 an hour the state’s minimum wage.

In order to qualify for a ballot initiative, the petition needed 350,000 signatures of registered voters.

“Public support for this initiative is overwhelming because people know you simply can’t live in California on $19,000 a year, and they want to create a path to a better life for all low-wage workers and their families,” said Martha Alvarez, a certified nursing assistant and member of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West.

Minimum wage workers, weren’t the only ones to join the Fight for $15 strike.

FedEx workers in Gardenia, California on November staged a one-day unfair labor practices strike to push for their own demands for union recognition by FedEx.

US Uncut reports that the strike interrupted delivery service in the South San Francisco Bay Area.

The Gardenia FedEx workers were joined by other FedEx workers and others who are seeking to join the Teamsters union.

The Teamsters expressed the union’s support for all workers fighting for better wages and working conditions.

“The Teamsters joined with thousands of truck drivers, valet attendants and low-wage workers across the country today in a day of action to raise awareness about the sorry state of wages and benefits for millions of everyday Americans on the job,” said the Teamsters in a statement about the day of action.

The union’s statement of support for those fighting for a decent wage said that if workers want fair wages, they need to join a union.

“The Labor Department’s own statistics prove why joining a union is important,” said the Teamsters.” The median union worker earns more than $200 a week . . . than a non-union one. That’s why the Teamsters have stressed the importance of labor union membership in our recent “Let’s Get America Working!” campaign.

South African union strikes for job and against corruption

South Africa’s largest labor union, the National Union of Metalworkers or South Africa (NUMSA), on October 14 conducted a one-day national strike for jobs and against corruption.

“South Africa is in the vicious grip of worsening mass unemployment, retrenchments (layoffs), deepening inequality, and poverty, ” said a statement that NUMSA issued about the strike.

Another statement issued by the union said that, “It is time to end the systemic corruption in our society.”

The union said that the two issues are intertwined.

Thousands of NUMSA members and their supporters marched through the streets of Johannesburg to deliver their demands to government offices.

The anti-corruption demands included a call for the government “to investigate the problem of illicit financial flows, transfer pricing, and money laundering” and for a more aggressive approach toward ending graft and bribery in the procurement of government contracts.

The union also demanded that the government take steps to protect and create jobs by, among other things, requiring that steel manufactured in South Africa be used in all public infrastructure projects, accelerating its infrastructure improvement program, and nationalizing key companies such as the country’s largest steel producer ArcelorMittal, and “plac(ing) them under worker control.”

“The ultimate objective of our class struggle,” reads the NUMSA media statement. “Is to raise levels of consciousness of the working class to overthrow the system that advances greed as its main motive force, and replace it with socialism – the only truly democratic and civilized state for humankind.”

In an interview with CNBC Africa, Sizwe Dlamini, NUMSA’s regional secretary, said that the union’s “strike is calling for engagement against corruption” in the public and private sectors.

He went on to say that public corruption is diverting money away from services that the people need and that corruption in the private sector is holding down wages and costing workers’ their jobs.

“Companies are not taking their responsibility to create and protect jobs seriously,” said Dlamini.

In 2014, the Financial Mail, South Africa’s leading business newspaper, reported that PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ survey on global economic crime found that “eight out of ten senior managers in South Africa have either committed procurement fraud or bribed and engaged in corrupt business activities.”

The report goes on to say that, “Asset misappropriation leads on the list of the so-called ‘big three’ economic crimes.”

One example of asset misappropriation is transfer pricing–the transferring of assets by a company to a related company for the purpose of hiding assets.

One example of such a practice was recently exposed by South Africa’s Alternative Information and Development Center (AIDC), which conducted an investigation into the strike by miners at the Marikana platinum mines owned by Lonmin, a global mining company.

The 2012 strike resulted in the deaths of 46 people. AIDC was trying to determine if Lonmin had the financial resources that would have allowed it to increase the miners’ low pay and avoid the bloody strike.

Lonmin has argued that it couldn’t have raised the miners’ wages because it simply did not have adequate resources to do so.

According to the AIDC report, Lonmin hid assets that could have been used to increase wages by paying questionable sales commission to one of its subsidiaries in Bermuda.

Lonmin paid its subsidiary, Western Metals Sales, 1.2 billion rands ( $84.6 million) in sales commissions between 2008 and 2012.

However, Western Metals was little more than a mail drop with no apparent sales staff.

Lonmin also paid $1.4 billion in management fees to Lonmin Management Services located in the UK.

AIDC’s report called these management fees exorbitant.

According to the Mail & Guardian, “the AIDC report concluded that had Lonmin mines not paid about R400-million a year in management and marketing fees to other companies in the group, it could have afforded the 2012 wage demands (of the Marikana miners).”

Lonmin’s actions are not an aberration. The Daily Maverick, an online South African newspaper, reports that between 2003 and 2012, “US$122 billion was illegally transferred out of South Africa” by companies seeking to hide their assets from taxes and social responsibilities.

According to NUMSA statements on the strike, this kind of corruption is an inherent feature of capitalism, and there is only one way to put an end to it.

“Capitalism as a system of private individual greed does not have solutions for problems that confront humanity and our environment. As we take up the campaign against corruption, we remain resolute that the permanent solution to corruption is the overthrow of capitalism. We are dedicated to this cause.”

NLRB rules Tucson taxi drivers are employees not independent contractors

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director has ruled that Tucson, Arizona Yellow Cab taxi drivers are employees rather than independent contractors and that a union representation election at Yellow Cab can move forward.

NLRB Region 28 Director Cornele Overstreet reversed a decision he made in 2013 in which he ruled that the Tuscon taxi drivers were independent contractors.

Overstreet wrote that he reversed himself after the NLRB reviewed his original decision and remanded the case to him for further review in light of the Board’s 2014 ruling in the FedEx Home Delivery case that “refined (the NLRB’s) approach for assessing independent contractor status.”

I have concluded that the drivers in the petitioned-for unit are statutory employees and are not independent contractors. Accordingly, I shall direct an election in the petitioned-for unit,” writes Overstreet.

Back in 2013, the Tucson Hacks Association (THA) petitioned the NLRB for a union election at Yellow Cab. When Overstreet denied the association’s petition, it requested a review by the NLRB.

When the NLRB agreed to review the original decision, THA turned to the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) for assistance.

OPEIU, which represents 4000 taxi drivers in Las Vegas and San Diego, provided attorneys who argued THA’s case before the NLRB.

Mel Schwarzwald, OPEIU’s general counsel said that the new ruling will have a far-reaching impact beyond Tucson.

“We believe that it means a great deal not only to these drivers but to many cab drivers across the country,” said Schwarzwald to Workers Independent News. “What the regional director has done is said that taxicab drivers are really employees, rather than independent contractors.”

Overstreet wrote that the NLRB’s refined test for determining independent contractor status requires that “empirical considerations should predominate over a surface reading of the bare terms of a contractual arrangement.”

The director noted that Tucson Yellow Cab drivers sign a contract in which their status is defined as an independent contractor, but that for a worker to be a truly independent contractor, the worker must have “actual entrepreneurial opportunity for loss or gain.”

When looking at the facts of the case, Overstreet determined that the drivers’ entrepreneurial opportunity was greatly restricted.

For example, Yellow Cab fired one taxi driver who set up his own dispatch system to service his personal clientele of about 100 regular riders even though the company encourages them to build personal clientele.

Overstreet also noted that the drivers have little control over setting rates for the service they provide and the hours that they work.

“Economic realities dictate their schedules,” writes Overstreet. “Drivers must work 60-119 hours a week to cover the cost of (leasing their cab) and expenses.”

Drivers also have little control of the dispatch system. According to Overstreet, the dispatch system is like a game of roulette over which drivers have little control.

“The Employer like the proverbial house, controls and benefits from the game by controlling the parameters.”

Driver pay, the amount left over after the driver pays to lease the cab and other expenses including fuel, is determined by the company.

Cab leases typically cost between $90 and $105 a day. Weekend lease rates increase to as high as $150 a day. Discounts are available for 12-hour leases and for new drivers.

Overstreet estimates that gross pay not including tips ranges between $12 an hour and $2 to $3 an hour. The estimated hourly wage for most drivers is somewhere in the middle of this wide spectrum.

Drivers pay the full amount of the Social Security tax if they want to be eligible to draw Social Security and the full amount of any health insurance they might purchase.

Both the THA and OPEIU are anticipating that a union election will be held soon, and in an open letter to fellow taxi drivers, Robert Aros, co-chair of THA, explained the benefits of unionizing.

“In 1982, when I started working as a cab driver, we were unionized,” said Aros. “We were paid by commission, worked eight hours a day, and had complete benefits. As independent contractors what have we gained? More importantly, what have we lost?”

He also emphasizes the precarious nature of the drivers’ present status. If they get hurt on the job, there’s no Workers Compensation; there’s no grievance procedure; and there’s no earnings guarantee.

“How many hours do you have to work just to live at subsistence level? Do you even make minimum wage?” he asks his fellow drivers.

The company may ask the NLRB to review Overstreet’s decision, and if it does, the union election could be delayed.

But Schwarzwald told Workers Independent News that he believes “there should be a vote fairly soon.”