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The Los Angeles Taxi Workers Alliance

University of California Transportation Center


Taxi drivers are often portrayed as the ultimate entrepreneurs, free of any fixed workplace, able to choose their own hours, and with a toehold in the American middle class. That stereotype may have been accurate in New York City decades ago (Hodges 2007, Mathews 2005), but in contemporary Los Angeles, taxi drivers spend long hours in “sweatshops on wheels,” their pay and working conditions controlled largely by company owners. Less than half of L.A. taxi drivers own their own cabs, and many of those who do have borrowed heavily to purchase them (Blasi and Leavitt 2006 49). In 2005, L.A. taxi drivers formed the Los Angeles Taxi Workers Alliance (LATWA) in order to improve working conditions, gain control over their jobs, and earn respect. This chapter documents LATWA’s efforts and accomplishments and assesses its future prospects. A critical focus of LATWA’s organizing is the status of the drivers. In the mid-1980s, the L.A. City Council acquiesced to a company owner's proposal to transform drivers from employees to independent contractors, which means that they are no longer covered by minimum wage laws or other labor protections. Subsequently, the City awarded franchises to several taxi “cooperatives” – a misleading term since an insider elite and owners of companies that provide essential services to the cooperatives continue to exercise a great deal of control over the drivers. One driver we interviewed called the industry a “monster,” evoking the imagery of a hydra with nine heads, alluding to the fact that 9 companies control all of L.A.’s 2,303 cabs, largely through a structure of cooperatives and private corporations few drivers understand.

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PDF icon LAtaxiworkers.pdf314.4 KB