I gained a bit more life experience from this thing - about union busting. I thought I would share with you what happened to me personally last week as it may put a human face on what could be otherwise a somewhat abstract labor situation.
First off, I think I should say in fairness that from the information I have gathered from both the media and with my own eyes, that the strike was pretty much a flop. I had hoped that because it was just a one-day action (the strike in September was two days) and it was on a Monday, the slowest business day of the week, that more cabbies would join in and refuse to drive.
When I came in to get a cab on the Saturday before the strike, I noticed this sign in the garage:
The owner of the taxi garage was making it very clear to the drivers that Monday, the strike day, would be a great day to drive because you could make so much money. He was taking his cue from the mayor. However, there was no indication that if you chose to observe the strike that there would be any kind of retribution.
Yet when I called the garage early on Monday to tell them I needed to change my schedule due to the strike, I was told quite bluntly that if I didn't work that night I would, in effect, be fired.
I say "in effect" because the way the system works is that since we are all technically "independent contractors" we are not employees. So what the owner of the garage actually told me was that if I didn't work that night he would not lease me his cabs thereafter. He then hung up the phone on me. This after fifteen years of being one of his best drivers.
So I called him back. How would it be, I asked, if I paid for the shift but didn't drive? That was acceptable. So I wound up paying the owner of the garage $113 for a shift I refused to drive so I could continue operating out of his garage.
And it left me feeling that my rights had been violated.
So this was the dilemma the NYC cab driver faced. It didn't mean simply losing a day's wages. It meant going below zero and paying your own money to heartless garage owners in addition to not making any profit for yourself that day. But it was a dilemma made not so unpalatable for many due to the chocolate-covered carrot that was dangled at the end of the mayor's stick.
In a slightly more ideal world, we would have a mayor who would get up and say this:
"It has come to my attention that the taxi drivers of New York City are working in conditions that are far below the standards of American labor.
"I am ashamed to admit that I was not aware of this until just recently, even though I have been your mayor for nearly six years, that cab drivers here are working 12 hour shifts with no health care benefits, no pension plan, no overtime, no paid vacations, and no sick days. And that the cost of these benefits cannot possibly be covered by the incomes that these drivers are currently making. It is deeply disturbing to me that such conditions exist in this, one of the most affluent and important cities in the world.
"Due to the fact that they have never had a real union, they have been taken advantage of by corrupt city officials and greedy garage owners for the last thirty years.
"But I am putting an end to this. And the first thing I am going to do is sit down with the people who are trying to represent the drivers and address their grievances. I want them to know that their objections are not being met by deaf ears."
If we had a mayor who said anything even approximating this, we would know we were getting something from him that is as important to us as the more tangible issues that are being debated.
And not an insulting bribe from a billionaire who was trying to bust a union.