In response to notoriously bad working conditions, taxi drivers in Austin are seeking a solution that goes beyond business as usual. The Taxi Drivers Association of Austin (TDAA), a membership-based organization representing hundreds of Austin taxi drivers, has formed a partnership with Cooperation Texas to start a unionized, worker-owned taxi cooperative — a model that is being adopted in cities around the country.
Within the last five years alone, taxi cooperatives have emerged in Portland, Oregon, Denver, Colorado, and Alexandria, Virginia, to name a few. Since 1979, Madison, Wisconsin has been home to Union Cab, the largest and most successful worker-owned taxi cooperative in the country, with a mission to “create jobs at a living wage or better in a safe, humane, and democratic environment.” With the recent approval of City Council for a taxi co-op franchise, Austin will join a growing number of cities that are paving the way toward a more just and sustainable model for the taxi industry.
On average, taxi drivers in Austin, many of them first generation immigrants, work 12 to 14 hours per day, 6 to 7 days per week. To work their shift, taxi drivers must lease (rent) their cabs each week with no guaranteed income. In fact, the average driver makes $2.75 an hour, earning well below the Federal minimum wage. Taxi drivers in Austin have no insurance or benefits, and little to no voice in the city ordinances that regulate the industry — much less in the companies that lease the cabs to them. According to the US Department of Labor, taxi driving is one of the top ten most dangerous jobs in the country.
As low-income workers, taxi drivers are forced to work for three exploitative companies that have a virtual monopoly on available cabs, preferential treatment on city ordinances pertaining to the taxi industry, and every incentive to squeeze as many pennies out of the drivers as possible in the face of increasing competition from the so-called “sharing economy” in the form of UBER and LYFT.
Unlike conventional companies, worker cooperatives measure success not simply by the money they earn, but by the well-being of their workers, the sustainability of their business, and their overall contribution to the community in which they operate. Austin is home to more than 40 cooperative businesses, boasting a membership base of more than 700,000 people, generating over $1 billion in total revenue, and employing more than 2,400 Austinites. A taxi co-op in Austin offers a new vision for the transportation industry and builds on the city’s growing reputation as a dynamic hub for cooperative enterprise.
This Saturday, members of TDAA will begin our Cooperative Business Institute Academy. If you want to support Austin’s taxi drivers in taking this historic step toward creating the first worker-owned taxi cooperative in Texas, make a tax-deductible donation to Cooperation Texas today!