Since last September, more than 1,000 taxi drivers in Denver have joined CWA Local 7777 as part of Green Taxi, a cooperative organized by the CWA Local to support Uber and other drivers in Denver's tightly controlled taxi industry.
It's the third cooperative the local has organized; the others are Union Taxi, another coop for drivers, and P&L Printing, said Local 7777 President Lisa Bolton. In a worker-owned cooperative, the workers are the owners. They set their own wages and working conditions, but also make business decisions. Many of the drivers are immigrants from African nations.
"Like our union, the coop is based on the values of solidarity, justice, one-worker, one-vote," she said. "Members of the coop are independent contractors but they have a voice in setting their wages and working conditions, they have a grievance procedure, they have equal standing with management."
More than 700 of the drivers have made a $500 financial commitment to Green Taxi Coop to build and own their own company. Members will elect their first permanent board of directors this month.
Some of the drivers drive for Uber, the online service that lets customers hire a taxi using their smartphones. Others are drivers for other companies. "All of them need to feed their families" and have been hit hard by the unfair costs that drivers in the Denver market face.
At Denver's private taxi companies, which control most of the market, drivers' leasing fees can hit $3,500 a month. Many drivers struggle to cover just the leasing fee and gas for their taxis.
It took three years of protest and work by Local 7777 to have the Union Taxi cooperative allowed into the Denver market in 2009, but the state Public Utilities Commission continues to restrict the number of drivers who could join the coop. The state legislature also changed its rules, making it more difficult for drivers to enter the taxi industry.
Local 7777 activists have pushed hard for legislation to modify the rules determining who can operate in the taxi industry. That legislation overwhelmingly has passed the House and is awaiting Senate action. More than 200 drivers packed the hearing room to make their voices heard.