Note: This presentation is believed to be the only
at this important Conference, on behalf of taxi driver safety.
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Organized under the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC). This conference, with workplace violence as its theme, was the 45th cooperative activity under the labour cooperation side agreement to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed by Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Taxi and livery drivers are 60 times more likely to be murdered while attempting to make a living than workers in any other field. Because they face a number of risks - working alone, working with the public, working at night, working in high crime areas, and working with cash - they are at very high risk for violence on the job.
Because 90% of our taxi drivers work under an unusual arrangement - that of "independent contractor", it is very difficult to obtain statistics on the incidents of workplace violence that do not result in death. Cab drivers are not paid for the time they work, rather they pay to work, and they pay for a specified time, whether they are working or not. Since they often have to work 12 hours a day just to get by, they simply cannot afford to lose the time it would take to wait for police and make out reports after an assault. In addition to having to pay for time lost, cabdrivers are not afforded any benefits - no health coverage or even workers compensation, so they are very reluctant to seek medical attention for injuries received in an assault unless those injuries are extremely serious. Even in states where cabdrivers should be covered by workers compensation, they are often told by the company that they have no coverage.
When I started driving a cab, I was told that the job would be dangerous and assaults were to be expected. It's just part of the job. There was no safety training, no safety equipment or procedures, and no method of reporting assaults. I had a knife pulled on me, a fare tried to rob me, and a couple of times I got into a scuffle with a passenger. None of these incidents were reported. After all, it's just part of the job and I did not want to be considered incompetent or unable to handle it.
At the company I worked for, if a driver was attacked and did not collect the fare, he might tell the dispatcher in hopes of getting the next call to make up for it, but the report rarely made it into the daily log. If a driver came in bloody, he was asked if he was going to go home or just clean up and go back out. If the answer was go home, he was reminded that he would be charged for the time missed.
For the past couple of months, I have been working on a national survey of cab drivers in an attempt to get an idea of just how many assaults go unreported. The preliminary results show that approximately 75% of assaults against cab drivers are not reported. 75%!! Using the figures given in the OSHA report, that would mean an incidence rate of 735.2 per 1,000, making taxi and livery drivers more than twice as likely to be assaulted on the job as police officers, who were thought to have the highest rate of assaults. These results are not conclusive since they do not include drivers from many of the larger high crime areas. None so far from New York City or Chicago or Washington, D.C., for example. As surveys come in from areas like those, the percentage of unreported assaults will likely rise even further.
The OSHA report has listed some very good potential safety measures to aid in protecting drivers from workplace violence. GPS, caller I.D, first aid kits, in-car surveillance cameras, partitions, protocol with police, an open mike switch, safety training, and cashless transactions are all very good suggestions. I would like to add to that some kind of community awareness programs to improve the image of cabdrivers and the understanding and appreciation of the services they provide.
A study done on the effectiveness of partitions in Baltimore showed clearly that shields reduce assaults. It also showed that shields are cost-effective - that is, their benefits substantially exceed their cost. The truth, though, is that the benefits of shields - reduction in injuries and robberies - are not benefits to the company who would be bearing those costs. The companies now bear none of the costs of injuries and robbery. Those costs are borne only by the drivers and possibly the taxpayers when costs of medical care have to be picked up by the state. Until the taxi companies are forced to meet their responsibilities and stop neglecting their duties thru the systematic and illegal denial of the rights of their drivers under the ruse of the "independent contractor" status, cabdrivers will continue to be assaulted daily and murdered at the rate of one a week.
Assaulting a cabdriver carries little risk to the assailant. First, there is a very good chance it won't be reported to the police, and if it is reported, there's very little chance of the perpetrator getting caught and if he is caught and disputes the allegation, there in a very good chance the cab driver won't be believed. I talked to a driver in Kansas City who said that he no longer reports any assaults or even robberies. The first time he was assaulted and robbed, he called the police. He was told to stay right where he was and wait for an officer. He did. When the officer got there, he saw that the cab was parked in a "no parking" zone. So the driver was arrested and the cab was towed away. The driver had just been beaten and robbed, but no report was taken on that. By far the most frequent complaint I got from drivers who answered my survey was lack of concern from the police department.
Cab drivers are in a position to be of great assistance to the police. They are out on the streets 24 hours a day. They know what goes on out there. But rather than developing a working relationship with the cabdrivers, the police often treat them like common criminals. Cab drivers are a vital part of the transportation system in many cities and it wouldn't hurt to show them a little respect. After all, they help keep the economy going by providing on-call transportation to those in need of it, they act as ambassadors to the city for out of town visitors, and they save lives by hauling home drunks who should not be on the roads. They are out there everyday putting their lives on the line every time they allow a stranger into their vehicle, yet they are treated with disrespect and disdain.
I once picked up a traveler from New York City. I mentioned to him that several cab drivers had recently been murdered there. His reply was, "Oh, that happens all the time. So what? They're just cabdrivers." Unfortunately, that attitude is not the exception. Geraldo Rivera made the statement on his show a couple of weeks ago that we should not be trusting the lives of airline passengers to "people who should be driving cabs." I'm not sure what he meant here. Foreigners? Incompetents? Incompetent foreigners? At any rate, it was a derogatory slur against both cab drivers and foreigners.
In many cities, not only is there no safety equipment in cabs, and no safety training provided, but cabdrivers are not permitted to carry even pepper spray for their own protection. Some cities even have ordinances requiring the cab driver to pick up anyone who wants a cab regardless of any perception of danger, thus preventing the driver from using even his own common sense to protect himself from harm. And some states have specifically exempted cab drivers from workers' compensation coverage. That, with cabdrivers being at the highest risk for workplace violence! How much clearer can it be made that cabdrivers are thought to be expendable?
As I talked to a driver in Seattle a couple of months ago, tears came to his eyes as he said, "Finally, somebody cares what happens to us!" I will never forget that. I only hope that I can get enough people with the power to make a difference to care as much as I do.
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