NEW YORK - On the evening of April 26th New York City taxi drivers and supporters gathered at the headquarters of the United Federation of Teachers in lower Manhattan.
The occasion was the inaugural fundraising event for the drivers union, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, (NYTWA) and the guest of honor for the event was AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Trumka was being honored, in part, in appreciation of the national charter that was recently awarded by the AFL-CIO to the parent organization of the NYTWA, the National Taxi Workers Alliance, (NTWA).
NTWA represents licensed medallion cabdrivers in New York and Philadelphia and is currently organizing in other cities across the country; Chicago, Boston and San Francisco among them. Meanwhile, in New York, IAM district 15 is organizing the drivers at non-medallion limousine services, the so-called "black car" industry.
Presiding over Thursday evening's event was Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance and President of the NTWA. Also in attendance was Ronald Blount, president of the Unified Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania and vice president of the NTWA.
Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, spoke about the significance of labor's outreach to non-traditional labor organizations and the groundbreaking role played by Ed Ott who, during his tenure at the Central Labor Council, granted membership in the organization to the taxi drivers. Ott is now a lecturer at the Murphy Institute for Labor Studies.
In her remarks Desai stressed the importance of the broad support for taxi derivers in combating the employers' efforts to divide the workers and make them feel isolated.
She reminded everyone that the NTWA was the 57th national union to affiliate with the AFL-CIO and that the national charter had been the dream of taxi workers even before the first step of the NYTWA's affiliation with the New York labor movement in 2007.
The highlight of the evening was the address given by AFL-CIO President Trumka. Trumka began his remarks by saying that union brothers and sisters in the taxi industry asked for help and the labor community came out to support them. He called the taxi drivers the future of the labor movement and called the issuing of the charter to the NTWA, the first issued to a non-traditional workers organization in 60 years, a watershed moment that he was proud to be part of.
Alluding to the large number of immigrant drivers Trumka spoke of his background as the son of immigrant parents and how the bosses have always tried to stir up anti-immigrant sentiments but that the unions build unity despite attempts to enforce divisions. Trumka concluded his talk by saying that it was really the taxi workers who should be honored and that he believed that organized workers, traditional and non-traditional alike would usher in a new day.
After his speech Trumka was presented with the "Golden steering wheel" award and an honorary shawl by NYTWA organizing committee member Mohammad Tipu Sultan and executive committee member Biju Mathew, after which the event closed with a cultural performance by the musicians collective, Son de Montón.