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PPA Approves Taxi Worker Co-op Following Threat of Lawsuit

March 20, 2015 Category: Purpose

After six years of applying, being denied and applying again, the Alliance Taxi Co-op has been approved by the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) for a dispatch license. The license will allow the co-op to finally send its drivers, who are also its owners, out onto the streets.

This is the first time a co-op has been approved, and the nearly six-year process has tested the latent organization’s endurance and the PPA’s to ability and willingness to work with new types or organizations.

The Alliance Taxi Co-op first applied for the dispatch license in 2009 and was denied because the PPA was not accepting any new licenses at the time, according to Ronald Blount, founder of the co-op. Blount is also a founding member of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, a membership-based organization that advocates on behalf of taxi drivers. With Blount at the helm, the group has staged protests, organized strikes and spearheaded labor negotiations.

In 2012, however, PPA approved the licenses of Checker Cab and Freedom Taxi. PPA reached out to the co-op around the same time and said now was the time to apply, but again the process dragged on.

“They had trouble understanding how a co-op worked,” Blount said.

Another two years passed of off-and-on communication with the PPA. Questions were sent, answered, then communication would fall off. Similar sets of questions were sent multiple times, according to Blount, but none of them pushed the process forward.

The co-op eventually brought on an attorney in early 2013. This January, the attorney threatened to file a discrimination lawsuit against the agency. A month later, the Taxi & Limo Division of the PPA made a recommendation to approve the dispatch license, according to the head of division Jim Ney. Although the PPA has stated that the lawsuit had nothing to do with the decision, the PPA Board voted unanimously to approve the license, with some caveats, earlier this week.

Every owner of the co-op, which by virtue of being a worker co-op includes every employee, will be treated by the PPA as person with a “controlling interest,” according to the order by the PPA Board approving the license. This subjects all of the co-op’s members to background checks and other reviews, including financial, safety and security tests.

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The current rule is that an individual must own five percent or more of the company to be considered having a controlling interest, but the PPA applied the rule to all owners of the co-op given its structure. The order stated that this was in the “public’s interest.”

Blount said he didn’t think the rule was fair, but he decided not to press the issue in effort to finally get the co-op out onto the streets.

Peter Frank, executive director of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA), a membership association for co-ops, said the Alliance Taxi Co-op is “a great use of the cooperative model.”

“It’s exciting that the powers that be in the taxi world have approved a co-op,” he said.

The Alliance Taxi Co-op joins an increasingly diverse co-op sector. Everything from energy providers to daycare centers are organized as co-ops. In the taxi industry, which the US Bureau of Labor ranks as one of the most dangerous professions, the cooperative model could have a major impact.

“I think this could have a real significant impact on the local co-op economy,” Frank said. “This a really difficult industry for the workers and by forming a co-op they’re able to take control of their working conditions and pay themselves a living wage.”

For a Blount, a long-time taxi driver himself, the co-op is a chance to put the power back into the hands of those who do the driving.

The co-op can provide better wages and greater safety for drivers,”because we control our own work,” he said.

The co-op currently has around 50 members, though Blount hopes to expand that number to 100 in the next six months.

Photo via Flickr user Thomas Hawk

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