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Carolyn Freundlich/Medill Reports

Chicago cab drivers working rush hour

Chicago Cabbies: City Hall, we want minimum wage

by Carolyn Freundlich
Feb 27, 2014

Cab drivers are turning up the heat at City Hall demanding to be recognized as city employees and included in the minimum wage hike.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to raise minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $9.25 an hour immediately and $10.25 per hour next year.

Meanwhile 15,000 cabbies across Chicago are working around-the-clock for less than half that amount, Cab Drivers for Justice leader Melissa Callahan charged Wednesday during a press conference at City Hall to protest the long hours and low wages.

Callahan said cab drivers are working 12 hour days, seven days a week, for $2 to $3 an hour.

The Mayor’s press office declined to comment, instead directing the question to Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection spokesman David Staudacher, who said he had no knowledge of the event.

According to a 2008 study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, taxicab drivers made $4.38 an hour on average working six days a week. That was before ride-share services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar entered the market.

“The situation has deteriorated even more because of ride-share apps,” Callahan said. “At this point it’s a crisis.”

Callahan said she could not support herself and her two children working 84 hours a week for $10,000-$13,000 a year. So she took a full-time job to supplement her income and worked there for two years while driving a cab on the weekends.

“I don’t see how drivers can continue to do this, making $2 to $3 an hour and sometimes not even that,” she said. “This is not a good situation.”

Emmanuel has proposed an ordinance to restrict ride-shares, prohibiting them from pick ups and drop-offs at O’Hare, Midway, McCormick Place and designated taxi stands loading or unloading zones.

But Callahan says that’s not enough.

Cab driver salaries have not remained stagnant. They have actually dropped since 2005, when the city last implemented a fare hike. Meanwhile, the cost of living has gone up 19.1 percent, gas prices increased 60 percent and lease rates rose 20-36 percent.

“I think part of the reason it was a good time to call on the city to acknowledge what’s going on is because we have so many politicians speaking out in favor of minimum wage,” Callahan said. “I think it’s despicable that they would try to gain momentum for an issue like minimum wage but at the same time knowing that cab drivers aren’t even making $7.25 or the state minimum of $8.25. It’s despicable.”

And for some, like Tom Hammerschmidtt, the conditions are unlivable.

“I have to pay the gas, I had to pay the tolls, I had to clean the car,” former taxi driver Tom Hammerschmidtt said. “The cost of living goes up, everything goes up and I wasn’t making any money.”

A Chicago cab driver for 40 years, Hammerschmidtt recently lost his job at Best Taxi because he was unable to pay the daily lease rate of $150. Hammerschmidtt said he could not pay the $400 accrued by lease rates, parking in traffic tickets and credit card fees.

Since he lost his job, Hammerschmidtt now looks to friends for a warm bed at night.

"A lot's changed," Hammerschmidtt said. "A lot of the cab companies are trying to come in and take over. I'm just trying to get work at any cab company."