At the San Diego-Imperial Central Labor Council, our mission is to create more jobs, better jobs and better lives for all of San Diego's workers — union and non-union. For years, we have proudly worked on policies that bring up the standard for our entire community; things like a living wage ordinance, paid family leave, worker retention policies, and healthcare access for working families.
But until now, as the AFL-CIO umbrella organization for the San Diego region, our 192,000 members have consisted of only unionized workers, retirees, and their families. Today, for the first time in our local history, we are excited to be welcoming a group of non-union workers into our fold — the United Taxi Workers of San Diego (UTWSD).
Under current California law, taxi drivers are termed “independent contractors,” which means they are technically not employees and don't have the right to collectively bargain. This classification has permitted the exploitation of these largely immigrant workers as they are also not protected by traditional state or federal employment laws.
Drivers do not benefit from labor laws protecting mandatory lunch periods, breaks, minimum wage and limited shifts. Few passengers or the public as a whole realize that many of these laborers work 12-plus hour shifts or more per day, pay as much as $865 in uncapped lease fees per week, lack health insurance, and with increasing gas prices may earn less that $5 per day. Retaliation from permit holders also remains a persisting reality that without protection from the law silences many lease drivers from expressing concerns about dangerous working conditions and safety violations.
What today's announcement means for the UTWSD is the increased strength we need to continue fighting for the underrepresented immigrant taxi worker population here in San Diego. By accessing the Labor Council's extensive experience in policy change we will be able to more effectively continue working with state and city legislators to pass driver-friendly laws and ordinances in lieu of drivers' inability to collectively bargain with owners or the San Diego region's regulatory body, MTS.
Working together, we hope to continue shining a light on the many industry and owner-specific abuses afflicting the San Diego taxi industry.
As our economy evolves, it's important for the AFL-CIO to continue taking the initiative in reaching out to workers who are traditionally unable to organize under a union. We are excited to welcome workers into the AFL-CIO with a shared commitment to help forward the workplace rights of all workers including taxi drivers, and look forward to this dynamic partnership that will help to improve the lives of all San Diego taxi drivers and their families.
This article originally appeared on Voice of San Diego.