Co-op spotlight: Union Cab

For over thirty years, Mad Town residents have enjoyed the cooperative difference in taxicab service. Union Cab organized in July 1979, and began operations in late October. Its mission is to create jobs at a living wage or better, in a safe, humane and democratic environment by providing quality transportation to the greater Madison area.

The Mayor, the late Jeff Erlanger (chair of the Committee on People with Disabilities) and John McNamara present Madison’s first Wheelchair Accessible Taxicab — a great example of Union’s “concern for community,” the seventh principle of cooperatives. Photo by Bill Knobeloch.

Union Cab organized after a decade-long struggle for economic justice in the traditional labor movement. After the second attempt to enforce a contract, the owner shut down the company, and organizers turned to the cooperative model. It took a lot of help from supporters and a ton of sweat equity to get Union Cab off of the ground. As is so often the story with cooperatives, they also had a bit of luck. City bus drivers went on strike just one week after the only other meter cab service shut down. Union hired striking drivers to help meet demand and show solidarity with the workers.

The co-op experimented with other services in the ’90s, but pulled back after deciding the business was too reliant on large contracts. The cooperative does operate two wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Flash forward to the present. Union Cab has over 200 members and the largest fleet in the city. Drivers enjoy some of the best working conditions in the industry, including access to health care. Union Cab has offered health care to its membership since the mid ’80s. In the mid ’90s, the cooperative began paying a percentage of an individual’s premium. Union Cab has also been the technological leader in the taxicab industry and maintains its own Information Services department. This spring, the cooperative will be setting the bar even higher by offering on-line ordering to the general public, as well as other programs designed to improve the work life of the members and the experience of the consumer.

Union Cab has provided leadership to the national worker-cooperative movement. It has held a seat on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives since January 2007, and helped MadWorC form. This spring, Union will offer a discount to members of any of the area’s co-ops in a show of solidarity with the cooperative movement. After thirty years, Union Cab continues to reinvent and revitalize itself through the energy of its member­ship.

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