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Shift Change: Taxi History in the Archives

Today’s entry is written by Margaret Fraser, Project Archivist for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance Records.

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Unidentified protester, circa 2002, New York Taxi Workers Alliance Records: WAG 319, Tamiment Library and Wagner Labor Archives.

The New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance (NYTWA) grew out of the Lease Driver Coalition, a segment of the Committee Against Asian American Violence (CAAAV), in 1998. In May of that year, alarmed at a proposal for several more penalties and fee increases, 24,000 cab drivers participated in a 24-hour work stoppage. The strike was influential not only because it solidified the NYTWA as a union, but it was able to bring together workers from a notoriously segmented group with no central point of organization.

In an article on May 14, 1998, the day after the work stoppage, The New York Times described the strike as “a day when the near absence of taxis left traffic so thinned that pedestrians could cross the street at 48th Street and Avenue of the Americas and see one car waiting at the light. One.” Though language barriers and the solitary nature of driving made it an historically difficult industry to organize, the NYTWA made a bold statement that day by removing one of the most iconic elements of New York City.
And it wasn’t just the visual of empty New York City streets that was affecting. New Yorkers and tourists who relied on taxis for their commutes were forced to navigate unfamiliar subway and bus routes. The day following the strike, one reader wrote a letter to The New York Times entitled “Yuppies on the Bus,” describing the unusual bus ridership that day.

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Cab Driver, June 1943, The Daily Worker and The Daily World Photographs Collection: PHOTOS 223.

The Tamiment Library and Wagner Labor Archives holds some of the few collections documenting taxi history in New York City. Our collections include the Taxi Rank and File Coalition Records and Taxi Rank and File Coalition Oral History Collection, both documenting drivers’ efforts for better working conditions in the 1970s.Tamiment also holds the newly acquired New York Taxi Workers Alliance Records and the Transport Workers Union of America Records, a union that advocated for drivers as early as the 1930s. Also, make sure to check out the taxi-related publications with great names such as, The Hot Seat and Shift Change in our serials collection.

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