Thanks to a very clever series of moves by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the giant rideshare company Uber has finally got its way. Their Chicago drivers will not have to be fingerprinted. While he was at it, he dealt another blow to the shrinking cab business, eliminating fingerprinting for cabdrivers too. All of this rests on the interpretation of a seemingly harmless opportunity for cab companies, included in a long list of reforms to help the industry that were approved in November as part of the 2018 budget.
“Allow taxicab companies to choose fingerprinted-based or non-biometric based criminal background check when onboarding taxicab drivers. Applicants must still clear criminal and driving history thresholds.” No member of the Progressive Caucus, and very few other aldermen realized when they approved the budget that they were eliminating fingerprinting immediately for ride share drivers and cab drivers alike. How could they, considering the intentionally misleading item slipped in to a list of agreed upon reforms? So how did Rahm pull off this coup? With a series of clever moves starting a month before the budget vote.
1) New Reform Item
October 23, BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareno met with half of the Mayor’s Taxi Task Force to
release the final version of reforms for the industry that the Task Force had been working’ on for
a year. But there was a new item listed in their reforms,item 2 b, which was the one allowing companies
not to fingerprint, cited above. Two cab drivers on the Task Force objected loudly, saying
it could pave the way for eliminating fingerprinting. When the Commissioner presented the list of
reforms to the other half of the Task Force, there was strong resistance from the owners. Some
complaining personally to the Commissioner. Divide and conquer. The Item remained.
2) The Fingerprint Study
Nov. 6, the City finally released the long overdue Fingerprint study. Announced in June of 2016 as
a six-month study to determine if fingerprinting is discriminatory, the study does not mention race
or discrimination. It’s a brief paper by an assistant professor at the U of I Chicago comparing cab
drivers and ride share drivers in various ways, and concluding they are very similar. This was enough
for the Commissioner to proclaim that there isn’t much difference. What about discrimination?
Anyone asked to study the question would point out that fingerprinting itself is not discriminatory;
it’s factual. What can be unfair is the way the information is used in hiring decisions. Anyone studying
the question would then check to see how it’s been used by the city in hiring cab drivers, and find
there is one obvious unfair provision, barring employmentfor possession of a small amount of pot.
The obvious solution would be to eliminate that provision. But then fingerprinting would not be
3) Part of budget
Passed Nov. 21. The mayor made the list of taxi reforms, including the new fingerprint item, part of
his 2018 City Budget, bypassing the Transportation Committee. The press concentrated on other
parts of the budget, including a slight tax increase on Uber and other rideshares. It wasn’t until after
the budget was passed that the Sun-Times announced the innocuous sounding fingerprint item
meant the immediate end to fingerprinting for cab drivers (presumably told so by the city or Uber’s
P.R. firm.) The article went on to scold the city council for endangering public safety, but that was
hypocritical since the paper had never warned the public about what was at stake. When a member of
the Progressive Caucus tried to get the fingerprint issue on the finance committee agenda, the city refused
to allow it. So, with the passage of the budget, the mayor had finally got rid of that pesky fingerprint
issue after two years of false starts. And the three-pronged attack was hugely successful. Very
clever of Rahm and his PR company. Two years earlier Uber had to spend millions of dollars on
T.V. commercials and P.R., and former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe had to personally lobby
aldermen and threaten that Uber would leave Chicago if the city council insisted on fingerprinting.
This time the whole fingerprinting issue was quietly buried by deceptive language in a deceptive place.
Very clever, and deeply cynical.
CHRIS CHANDLER, UTCC Voice