Union Cab of Madison

From Cultivate.Coop

Union Cab of Madison Cooperative began operations on October 29, 1979. The worker cooperative provides taxi services in Madison, Wisconsin, with the mission 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 Co-op has over 200 members (although the number moves a bit based on the season)and is the largest cab company in Madison, WI. Every worker at Union Cab is a member of the co-operative despite the title of their job.

Guiding Principles

Union Cab has a set of principles that it subscribes to:

  • The Cooperative Principles (as defined by the International Cooperative Alliance).
  • Vision Statement: "To serve the community in such a way that we are considered as a sustainable asset and valued resource by all.
  • Mission Statement: "To create jobs at a living wage or greater in a safe, humane and democratic environment by providing quality transportation to the greater Madison area."
  • Core Values of Union Cab:
    • The safety and health of our members and the public are of paramount importance.
    • We are dedicated to the principles of worker rights and membership responsibilities.
    • Open and honest communication and direct involvement are our rights and responsibilities as members.
    • Managing growth carefully is fundamental to creating quality in our work life and fostering a strong sense of community.
    • Customer satisfaction is everyone's job and is critical for our success.
    • We are dedicated to operating our cooperative in an environmentally responsible way.


In the 1960's cab drivers in Madison began organizing for better pay and safer work conditions. They also wanted a better work environment. Initially, drivers used the traditional labor movement, but found it difficult to force the owners negotiate. After a successful strike against Checker Cab, the owner recognized the union, but refused to sign a contract. A second strike was called and the owner shut down the company rather than negotiate. A group of organizers then turned towards the cooperative movement. In the spring of 1979 people started raising money and developing by-laws. By July of 1979, a group of five people (James Symon, Stephen Stepnock, Steve Krumrei, James Cooley and Marc Shapiro) with the assistance of their attorney Toby Reynolds incorporated under Chapter 185 of the Wisconsin State Statues. Operations began on October 29, 1979.
The full history can be found here. The short version is that after a six month struggle, the co-operators found some luck--the only other metered taxi company shut down operations and a couple of weeks later, the city bus drivers went on strike to force the City of Madison to recognize their rights.
In the 1990's, the co-operative experienced a lot of growth outside of the taxi market by starting a para-transit division to provide wheelchair accessible transportation and a school bus division. These other divisions put significant strain on the organization and Union Cab reverted to standard taxi service in 2000. In 2004, thanks to new technologies, the co-op began offering wheelchair accessible service as part of its taxi service.


Union Cab used a traditional hierarchy with some unique accountability structures for over thirty years. In 2011-2012, after the retirement of a General Manager, the co-operative switched to a democratic team managment structure with a traditional board of directors. The board of directors consists of nine directors and three alternates. Directors serve for three years so that one-third of the board rotates each year. Alternates serve for one-year and may be seated in the absence of a director at any meeting or permanently if a director resigns. The board hires a General Manager who oversees other managers and the workforce.

The board conducts its work through committees: Governance Policy, Human Resource Policy, Strategic Planning, Audit and Finance Policy, Education and Social.
The board adopts three key documents each year: Strategic Plan, Capital Budget and Operational Budget. The Strategic Plan develops from an annual social audit and membership input.

The management team consists of a team structure with key personnel dispursed throughout and appointed at-large members. The primary decison making body for managment is the Steering Team which consists of Business Manager, Operations Manager, Finance Manager, Human Resource Manager, Maintenance Manager, Waybill Supervisor, Shop Supervisor, Adminstrative Supervisor and two at-large members.

Other teams include Operations, Finance, Member Assistance and Support, Street Marketing and Green.


Union Cab created a Peer Review System to manage its dispute resolution. Some of the features of the program (such as the Workers' Council) pre-date the first day of operations. Others will only go into effect on January 1, 2011. It is designed to remove the hierarchy and paternalism from discipline and complaints while instilling a greater sense of ownership among the membership.
Discipline is based on a 12 point system in three categories:

  • Category I--Shop Rule Violations related to behavior
  • Category II--Collisions and unsafe driving
  • Category III--attendance and shortages (may be worked off with Operational Needs Credits in which members who work on peak days when the Co-op is short-handed can earn credits against future Category III points).

The Peer Review System consists of the following facets:

  • Mediation Council--a group of up to seven trained mediators to provide need based mediation. Members are encouraged to begin any dispute resolution process with mediation.
  • Behavior Review Council--a selected group of members who review Member Complaints that cannot be mediated and are based on the categories of shop rules.
  • Accident Review Council--a selected group of members who review collisions and determine member liability.
  • Workers' Council--randomly selected members chosen to hear appeals of the decisions of the BRC or ARC.
  • Director's Council--three members of the Board of Directors who hear appeals of non-category complaints or procedural issues of the Workers' Council.
  • Stewards Council--members selected by other members to help negotiate the various councils, assist in drafting policy, and providing support for workers.
  • Category Three Administrator who handles an automated system of attendance and shortages while also monitoring the Operational Needs Credit.

External Relations

Union Cab supports the co-operative movement and has been an active member in the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, Madison Area Worker Cooperatives (MADWORC), National Cooperative Business Association, The Cooperative Network and Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund.

Differences Between Union Cab and Typical Cab Companies

The industry, in the United States, has moved from "mom and pop" style operations in which drivers were paid commissions, to more corporate models in which drivers are considered independent contractors. The differences are many:

  • At Union Cab, the co-operative owns all of the assets, drivers earn a commission on their fares. In a typical cab company today, the owner of the company makes their income from renting the cab to the driver. If a driver doesn't earn enough to pay the lease, they may spend a day working and owing the company money. Drivers also earn seniority increases in their commission rate.
  • Union Cab may be the only cab company to even provide health insurance to its drivers let alone paying a substantial part of the premium. Union Cab currently partners with Group Health Cooperative of South-Central Wisconsin.
  • Workers elect and run for the board of directors and other governance positions. The operate the governance structure as well as own the assets.
  • Workers have a highly developed accountability system that ensures the rights of workers to be treated fairly with dignity even while maintaining high standards of customer service and integrity.
  • Starting pay for almost all workers exceeds industry averages (except managers).
  • Pay solidarity is expressed throughout the organization with a 2.5:1 ration between the highest and lowest paid worker.

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