File Photo by John Han.
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By Brad Newsham.
N. KOREA or SF?
IMAGINE the government of North Korea or South Africa or Iraq or Arizona passing a law dividing the populace into Haves and Havenots. They tell the Haves, “You get our country’s riches.” And the Havenots? “You get zero – plus each of you has to pay $4,000/year to fund our gifts to the Haves.”
Surely the San Francisco Board of Supervisors would immediately pass a resolution condemning such lunacy!
But here’s a dirty secret: San Francisco’s MTA has drawn a line down the middle of its 10,000 workers. The Haves (bus drivers, parking and traffic police, office staff, mana-gers – 5,000 workers total) receive City paychecks; sick, vacation, and overtime pay; health care; and retirement.
The MTA’s other workers, the city’s 5,000 cab drivers? Nothing.
How can this be? In 2007, several City Hall insiders look-ed at the cab industry and saw Opportunity. Inside a 30-page transportation bill, they hid three sentences (abolish the Taxi Commission, place the cab industry under MTA control) and in that off-year election snuck the whole thing past the voters – with Yes votes from just 15% of the electorate.
Since officially absorbing the cab industry in 2009, the MTA has siphoned off some $33 million generated strictly by the labor of San Francisco cab drivers and has used it, mainly, to fund paychecks and benefits for the 5,000 Haves. In February the MTA announced a plan to take even more –roughly $20 million per year – from the cab industry: roughly $4,000 per driver! And now they’re trying to ram this new outrage down the cab industry’s throat.
Imagine if this were tried on police, firefighters, or trash collectors. But those unwashed, uneducated, non-union, don’t-speak-the-English-so-good, loser cab drivers? The City’s ruling clique has asked themselves, “Can we get away with this?” And has decided, “Oh, Yes We Can!”
“Stop the MTA” Friday newsletter, Issue #2, May 4, 2012
At 9 a.m. On Tuesday, May 1 – International Workers’ Rights Day! – I took a stack of newsletters to SFO. As I passed them out, an airport staff member demanded to see my permit, which bore the name of a fellow United Taxicab Workers member. The man said, “You are not Mark Gruberg!”
When I pointed to the section allowing UTW “1-2 leafleters,” the man could not hide his disappointment. He studied the fine print and stabbed at it: “This is expired!”
The permit, good through April 30, had expired nine hours earlier. He whipped out his pad and pen, demanded all my ID, wrote down my name, cab #, A-Card #, drivers license #, airport card #, and said, “I could make you leave the airport.” I thanked him for not doing that. He offered me some advice: “I’ll warn you – they don’t like it in the office when you go in asking for these permits.”
The receptionist in the office took down my name, A-Card and phone #s, and said her boss was busy (I could see him sitting in the next room) but would call me “by Friday afternoon.” This was early Tuesday. I said, “Thousands of drivers think the information I’m distributing is important.” She suggested, “You can distribute outside the airport.”
I’m 60 years old. Since I started cab driving (in 1985) I have been disrespected, and have seen my brother and sister cab drivers disrespected, thousands of times. From 1993-95 I put every ounce of myself into making UTW strong. In 1994 we had 400 dues-paying members. We raised $25,000 and filed a lawsuit against the City.
I still recall the tone of the ruling: Question the system? Idiot cab drivers – Screw you!
Activists burn out. I burned out for years. I’ve seen other cab industry leaders burn out, put their heads down, and go back to driving and minding their own business. Sometimes they come back for awhile, sometimes not. I may have one good fight left in me. But I’m not here just to win a battle over medallions or to get some piddly leaflet permit from SFO. I’m in this to finally establish what was missing when I started driving, in 1985: Dignity for cab drivers.
Dignity comes from strength. And without proving our strength, without getting organized, we will always lose. The MTA’s taxi deputy, Christiane Hayashi, makes $140,000/yr plus benefits. MTA Director Ed Reiskin makes $294,000. I’m guessing Malcolm Heinicke, the MTA Board member who publicly proposed stripping all medallions from cab drivers, earns millions per year from his law firm. They will fight for every penny they can take from cab drivers. And if they retire, the MTA will hire someone else to do the same job. But these people running, and ruining, our cab driving lives total just a few dozen.
There are thousands of us – 7,000 A-card holders, including 5,000 ‘active drivers’ (MTA figures). If just 2,000 of us step up with a mere $20/month, we would have a budget of $480,000 per year, and a completely transformed industry.
Can you imagine what you and Mark Gruberg and Tariq Mehmood and Saam Aryan could do with half a million bucks per year? We could get up off our knees. The MTA would not be cannibalizing our industry. Candidates wanting to be elected to the Board of Supervisors would request our advice and support. This industry is ours for the taking.
The Stop the MTA committee is preparing a plan. Stand by. When it’s time to donate, read it here. Things are about to get interesting.
File Photo by John Han.
I’VE BEEN F!!!CKING (expletive) SHOT!”
“I started driving in 1990 and this happened in 2004, when I was 44 years old. It was Friday night, late, almost the end of my shift. I picked up four people at Sutter and Mason and dropped three of them on Potrero Hill.
The last guy needed to go out to Hunters Point.
This was when they were still putting in the Muni line out there, and there were lots of those big orange construction barriers, the kind you fill with water, in the middle of the Third Street median.
I was stopped at Third and Newcomb, and just as the light turned green and I started rolling forward, this guy dressed all in black stepped out from behind one of the barriers, just a few feet from my window, and started shooting. Nope – no explanation. Later the cops said it might have been a gang initiation:
Go out and shoot someone and you’re in.
I see the flash of light from the revolver and I say to my passenger, "He’s shooting at us!"
The first bullet lodged in the dashboard. If he’d aimed a little higher I might not be talking to you now. I see his aim, so I lean forward and kind of hug the steering wheel and manage to dodge the second bullet – it goes in the driver side window and out the passenger window.
But the third one hits me in my left shoulder. I tell my fare I’ve been f!!!cking (expletive) shot! And turn right around and drive to the hospital…
The doctors said I’d be better off if they didn’t operate, so the bullet’s still in there. A little lead souvenir. I feel it every day, like someone pressing their index finger on my upper back, a couple of inches in from my armpit. Also I’ve got some tingling down my left arm – nerve damage.
On the way to the hospital I called my manager and told him I’d been shot. He came straight to the hospital, and when I saw him I said, “That’s it! That’s my last shift for this year.” And I took the rest of the year off. Fortunately I’d recently gotten my medallion, so I could afford to recuperate – just barely. I came back the next January, and have been driving ever since.
What if I’d been a Muni driver? Oh, that’s a great question. Man, I can hardly imagine what all would have been available to me. Obviously workers comp, and lots of other support.
But a cab driver? Mostly I just dealt with it on my own.”
An MTA / City Hall junta of
50 people rules 5,000 drivers!