Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Impressions of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance

Since I'm working with impressions instead of facts, I think it's best to start with photos. They tell most of the story. Nine out of the eleven member San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance (SFTWA) board are in this shot. Another is included below sitting behind a National Taxi Workers Alliance (NTWA) organizer who is speaking in the following photo.

The final member of the board is Rua Graphis of the United Taxicab Workers (UTW). The SFTWA represents the merger of the UTW and the San Francisco Cab Driver's Association (SFCDA) with a bunch of guys I don't know and who haven't, except for an occasional protest, been part of the SFMTA's decision making process for the last five years. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I'm not enamored with many of the people who have been part of that process.

The person most responsible for bringing all these different groups together is the blond at the table, Beth Powder, who is a film maker and short time cab driver with clearly exceptional organizational skills.

A few more shots tell more of the tale.

The main story is that the SFTWA will be first workers group that truly represents the cultural and ethnic diversity of the cab drivers in San Francisco.

The secondary story is that, if you look at the body language of the members of the board, you can see that they are all people who belong at the table. These are people who are leaders in their communities. They should know how to work together, how to get things done.

An Enthusiastic Response

Around 350 drivers showed up for the meeting which was geared primarily to signing up new members and giving inspirational speeches. Except for expressing a mutual hatred for Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, however, there was a shortage of concrete ideas. In fact, the NTWA speaker said that we shouldn't ask him what the union could do for us now but wait six month or a year until 1,000 to 6,000 members had been signed up and then ask.

 A Taxi Strike?

The organizer  then went on to give what I consider to be a dangerous example. He said that the New York branch of the union had held a two day strike which got them something or other.

This may not have been his intention but it gave me the impression that he was tied to the old union model of becoming big and strong enough to paralyze a city.

It's good to be strong but striking is a dead model. The only time it works is if the strikers belong to an industry where they can't be replaced. Even then a strike can create a great deal of hostility.

A taxi strike in a city where there are three to five times as many illegal cabs operating as there are legal ones would be a good way to commit hari kari.

What I Think We Need to Do.

 If a union is going to succeed in this city at this time we need a different model; one geared to bringing people to our side, more attuned to adding market share than it is to flexing muscles or blowing horns.

I think it's important to sell ourselves to the public both in terms of our behavior and informing them of the dangers of using the S.H.I.T.S.

One of the biggest aids in bringing passengers back to cabs has been Flywheel. I think we need to use it and promote it as well as working with the management to make the app better.

I think it's also important to connect with environmentalists and other groups that are our natural allies but just don't know it yet. In fact, I think the negative environmental impact of the S.H.I.T.S. should become a central issue that we keep pushing to the public and press like we've been pushing their lack of insurance for the last few years.

This is finally beginning to pay off. A year ago you could hardly get a news outlet to mention tncs and insurance in the same breath. Now a few news organizations like NBC are beginning to understand the problems and write articles on the subject.

Finally, we need to get political and back progressive candidates that are likely support us like Tony Kelly. It's politics that will ultimately win or lose the game.


  1. Hi Ed, great reporting. I just found your blog and I'd read your whole blog within the last two days.
    BTW, there is a gossip going around at the airport about ex deputy director, Chris Hayashi. Is it true that she is working at Uber now? I don't know it is true or not. Have you heard anything about that?

    1. the rumors I heard is she doesn't work for Uber but someone else.

    2. Then that's all right. She's too young to retire.

  2. If you want environmentalists on your side organize a group to march against climate disturbance this Sunday, the 21st! The bigger one may be in Oakland at the lake. Check it out at 350.org

  3. I think the strike is a suicidal at this time.The only way to grow the membership and try to merge with sfmta bus driver or any other powerful union.We need to play by the current political rules get the money and influence by the membership.That is one of the way to bring attention to politicians running the city and state.

  4. Here is a good read


  5. I see at least two medallions holders (maybe there are more) on the on at near the organizing Board table. Does that make sense?

    1. Stay divided and you'll be conquered. Or, do you intend to fight the medallion holders instead of Uber?

      The name of the union is the San Francisco Taxicab Workers Alliance and everyone on the board is a working taxicab driver. The San Francisco Cab Drivers Association has always been open to both regular drivers and medallion holders. The interests on most issues are the same.

  6. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/09/against-sharing/

    good article about disgruntled uber drivers. I have to say though i am disappointed to hear that the teamsters would help app drivers, to me they are the equivalent of scabs and the antithesis of what organized labor is supposed to be about.

    1. Thats an A+ article you posted there, thank you..