In May 2011, a group representing 50 Portland taxi drivers requested 50 new taxi permits for its members as well as a company permit for a new employee-owned taxi service, Union Cab.

The taxi drivers cited poor working conditions and low wages as the reason for forming their own company, prompting the City of Portland Revenue Bureau—which controls taxi permits—to investigate the drivers’ claims.

Today, at a meeting held by the Revenue Bureau, the results of that investigation were released in a 27-page study:"Taxi Driver Market Study: Long Hours, Low Wages." (pdf)

The document reveals that Portland cab drivers on average work between 6-7 days a week, 12-14 hours per day and make about $6.22 per hour, which is $2 less than Oregon minimum wage. These conditions, while not great, are technically legal because many cabbies are not full employees, but independent contractors.

“It’s not only about 50 cab drivers,” said Kedir Wako, one of the cab drivers that requested the permits. “It’s about all cab drivers in this city.”

Wako, a 40 year-old Ethiopian immigrant, told the Mercury he is familiar with the long working hours and low pay the report revealed. Wako has driven cab in Portland for the past 14 years. But in 2008, Wako said he had enough. That year Wako looked into what it would take to form a union at the cab company he worked for, Broadway Cab.

But because cab drivers are independent contractors, essentially working for hire, forming a union wasn’t Wako’s best option. He decided instead to form his own company, a employee-owned enterprise that he and others would call Union Cab.

Wako enlisted Communications Workers of America local 7901 member Madelyn Elder for help. Elder got Wako in contact with a worker-operated cab company in Denver, and Wako also talked to employees at Portland’s own employee-owned cab company, Radio Cab.

Wako’s concerns are borne out by Revenue Bureau’s report, which reveals that workers at Radio Cab worked only 5.5 days a week on average. Their shifts were also shorter, averaging only eight hours.

Regulatory Division Manager Kathleen Butler, who introduced the report, said the Revenue Bureau will have a 30-day public comment period in which people will be able to give their opinions on the report—either in emails, in person, or online. The bureau expects to start the public comment period in the next 60 days.

One outcome of the city’s report could be new regulations that could protect cab drivers in the future.

In the meantime, the bureau will not be approving any new taxi permits until after the public comment period is over. Wako, who who called the city’s report “fair,” said he is eagerly waiting for the day when his cooperative venture will get off the ground.

“I hope some good will come out of it,” he said. “And I hope there won’t be any retaliation from the [cab] companies.”