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Wisconsin State Journal

Jan. 10, 1979

Council balks at request for more taxicabs

By Paul Fanlund

Of The State Journal

            The City Council — faced with a vexing choice on permitting new taxicabs to relieve a mid-winter crunch — opted to take no action Tuesday night.

            The council was asked to approve 10 new taxi permits for Blue Cab Company, a request that would help relieve a city cab shortage widely acknowledged to be severe.

            But drivers and supporters of a four-month-old strike against Checker Cab Company said the council would be interfering in the labor dispute by allowing the competition to exploit Checker’s absence from the marketplace.

            The council, on a motion by Alderman John Mattes, 4th District, referred the permit proposal to City Attorney Henry Gempeler for an opinion on whether approval of the permits would make the city vulnerable to unfair labor charges.

            The city regulates Madison’s half dozen taxicab companies and must approve any new cabs. Checker Cab presently has 50 permits, while Blue Cab has 20.

            Tuesday’s action leaves unchanged a taxicab shortage which even opponents of the added permits acknowledge.

            Demand for taxicab service peaks during the November to March winter months, according to Warren Somerfeld, the city’s transportation director.

            And, largely because of the departure of Yellow Cab Company in1976, there are 24 fewer cabs operating in Madison now than in 1974, Somerfeld said.

            Somerfeld said observation of Blue Cab’s operation by a member of his staff revealed the company’s “turnaway rate” (the number of callers the company cannot accommodate) is “phenomenal.”

            Donald Eithun, the owner of Blue Cab, told council members the request represented no attempt to exploit the Checker strike. Eithun said he began inquiring about added permits more than a year ago, long before the Checker Cab strike began last Sept. 22.

            The strike was called by Local 104 of Wisconsin General and Industrial Workers Union.

            Eithun made a lengthy, rambling plea for the extra permits, citing the professional character and dedication of Blue Cab drivers and management.

            A representative of striking Checker drivers countered by presenting a petition opposing the extra permits which he said contained l,700 signatures.

            After raising questions about union organizing efforts at Blue Cab (there is presently no union there), Mattes said council approval of the extra permits would likely upset Checker management (which was not represented Tuesday night) as well as striking drivers.

            “I can’t imagine they (management) would be pleased to see their company given away in the middle of a labor dispute,” Mattes said.

            Alderman James Yeadon, 8th District, said that “a lot of people are suffering” as a result of the taxicab shortage, but added the determination shown by Checker strikers in their cause should be considered.

            “We’re meddling in that (cause) by granting these permits,” Yeadon said.

            Alderman Michael Briggs, 6th District, used the debate to offer a pitch for his proposal to remove the city almost entirely from taxicab regulation.

            “We don’t say how many drug stores and shoe stores we should have in this city,” Briggs said, adding that the numbers of taxicabs seems a similarly improper concern of city government.

Capital Times

Feb. 1, 1979

Checker blames strike for closing


Of The Capital Times Staff

            Madison’s oldest taxicab firm, Checker Cab Co., indicated Wednesday it will cease operations immediately, as a result of its four-month-old strike and its subsequent inability to pay its creditors.

            In a statement released Wednesday, Raymond Veloff, former president of Checker Cab and the company’s major stockholder, said the company has not renewed its cab permits with the city. Local 104 of the Wisconsin General and Industrial Workers’ union has been on strike against the cab company since Sept. 22. About 100 employees are out of a job as a result.

            But the slack may be taken up with the formation of a new cab company. The city clerk’s office received an application for 25 permits Wednesday from Union Cab. The name listed on the permit application is that of James Symon, 130 Breese Terrace. According to information on the application, the company will lease cabs from a car dealer in Hopkins, Minn., for its operation.

            When contacted today, Symon refused to provide any additional information about the new cab company.

            Other companies applying for permits by Wednesday’s deadline were: Blue Cab, 50 permits (an increase over the 20 the company has been issued); and A-l, 15 permits (the company now has 10). No information concerning Badger Cab’s application was available. Badger, which charges customers on the basis of how many “zones” they travel through, rather than on the basis of a meter fare, now operates with 30 permits. Three other companies applied for four or fewer permits.

            Veloff’s statement indicated he places the blame for the cab company’s demise on the union’s actions.

            “We have done everything humanly possible to reach an agreement with the union with no success,” Veloff said. “As late as last week at a bargaining session, the union informed us that they have not altered their positions on the right to strike as a method of settling grievances, nor have they altered the economic aspects of the contract, in which they asked for a 39 percent increase in wages and fringes in the first year.”

            Veloff said he would have to ask for a 39-40 percent increase in taxi fares in order to pay for the union’s demands, something he didn’t think the City Council would be willing to grant.

            In a separate statement Wednesday, Madison attorney Worth Piper, who said he was representing a group of Checker’s creditors, said the company has agreed to sell its 19 taxis and four airline limousines to Blue Cab Co. Piper said he was “not at liberty” to name the creditors involved. He said the Madison businessmen he represented had helped Checker purchase 20 new cabs in December, 1977. The agreement to sell, Piper said, is in lieu of a formal foreclosure.

            Piper said an agreement requiring Checker to sell its 19 remaining cabs and four remaining airline limousines was reached early Wednesday. Piper added that Blue Cab would be purchasing the vehicles, if Blue’s application for additional permits was granted by the City Council. If Blue does not receive the permits, Piper said, arrangements will be made to sell the vehicles to a taxi company outside of Madison.

            (Blue’s application for 10 additional permits has been stalled before the City Council. Local 104 has argued the city would commit an unfair labor practice if it issued the permits to Blue Cab. The matter is still under study with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission and would be dropped only at the union’s request. A hearing has been scheduled in the matter Feb. 9.)

            Checker, which operated the largest fleet of taxis in the city, is the second cab company to stop operations. After a strike by members of the Teamsters’ Union Local 695, Yellow Cab went out of business in June, 1975.

            According to Veloff’s statement, “We apologize to our customers for the lack of service since Sept. 22, 1978 (the day Local 104 struck Checker), and for the lack of service to customers in the future, due to our closing down.”


Capital Times

July 7, 1980

Teamsters infighting may be snarling bus strike


Capital Times Managing Editor

            According to the Teamsters union, a settlement in Madison’s bus strike hinges only on whether the city of Madison will accept a cost-of-living increase for the striking drivers.

            But there is actually much more at stake in the 10-weekold stalemate. Several people involved in the bus negotiations fear that political turmoil inside Teamsters Union Local 695 may in fact be holding the bus settlement hostage.

            The outcome of the bus strike could be a determining factor in who controls Local 695 in the future, a decision that will be made in a local-wide election this coming December. Coincidentally, the leaders of the two most diametrically opposed Local 695 factions are actively involved in the current bus negotiations. They are John August, a vocal member of the Teamsters’ bus drivers’ bargaining team, and Robert Rutland, the secretary-treasurer of Local 695. Madison’s bus strike is the perfect showcase for both August and Rutland and comes just in time for the election campaign.

            August and Rutland have been at each other’s throats since 1973 when the International Brotherhood of Teamsters imposed a trusteeship on the Madison-based local, fired all the incumbent officials and installed Rutland— a member of Milwaukee’s Teamsters Local 200 — as the new leader.

            Since then, August and several other Local 695 members have formed a group called “Teamsters for Democracy” which has among its objectives: Oust Rutland and the other Local 695 officials he has brought in to help him run the union, and return the local “to the rank and file.”

            August’s Teamsters for Democracy produced a slate to run against Rutland in both 1974 and 1977, but lost both times. Both elections were bitter contests and featured several incidents of fisticuffs between some of the opponents. ‘

            (Ironically, David Shipley, Rutland’s business agent who is working with August and the other bus driver negotiators during the current strike, was said to be the person responsible for separating the shoulder of Glenn Van Keuren, the TFD’s candidate for secretary-treasurer during the 1974 Teamster election campaign. Van Keuren, who has since left Madison, was forced to find volunteers to chauffeur him around during the campaign because his left arm was in a sling.)

            Part of the blame for the TFD’s two election losses was placed on the existence of a third faction headed by the retired founder of the local, A.E. Mueller of Watertown. Both August’s and Mueller’s candidates captured around 30 percent of the Teamsters’ votes, leaving Rutland the winner both times by a scant 38 percent.

            After the 1977 loss, the Rutland foes vowed that 1980 would be different. And, as things stand now, they could be. There is a strong movement under way by both August’s and part of Mueller’s old factions to produce a unified slate to oppose Rutland and his administration in December.

            Although nothing has been made final, the word making the rounds in Teamsters’ circles is that August will run for president of Local 695 and Roger Witz, a truck driver who headed Mueller’s tickets in 1974 and 1977, will be the unified slate’s choice for secretary-treasurer. As many Teamsters see it, a joint ticket featuring August and Witz would stand an excellent chance of beating Rutland’s crew.

            But whatever the final decision on a joint slate, many Teamsters feel that the coming election will be the “make-or-break” issue for the Teamsters for Democracy.

            “I’ve just got a gut feeling that this whole bus deadlock has got something to do with the fight in the Teamsters,” commented one striking bus driver, who asked that his name not be used. “Both sides are being awfully careful not to make the other side look good or do something wrong to make themselves look bad. It’s crucial to both of them.”

            One theory, which is being advanced by both people on strike and those on the city’s side of the bargaining, is that Rutland is trying to get August out.

            “There are quite a few who think Rutland is going to let August lead the bus drivers ‘down the Primrose path’ on this cost-of-living issue and then when the majority of drivers finally become sick of striking he’ll come in, settle the strike and emerge as the hero,” a city hall official commented, explaining that he has heard that same theory from several of the drivers. Many in the Teamsters know that this isn’t the first time such a scenario has been advanced in a strike involving August.

            John August was one of the leaders of the 1975 Yellow Cab strike, which eventually led to the cab company going out of business. The cab strike, which also was a Teamsters’ strike, occurred a few months after the Teamsters for Democracy’s first election fight against the Rutland administration.

            In interviews with out-of-work cab drivers after the firm announced it was going out of business, several drivers publicly blamed Rutland for the loss of the strike, insinuating Local 695 purposely prolonged the walkout because if Yellow Cab went out of business, John August and his followers would be out of the Teamsters’ hair, too.

            It is also widely known in Teamsters’ circles that Local 695 went out of its way to keep August out of the union following the Yellow Cab strike. His attempts to get other jobs in Teamsters-represented firms fell through, one after another. As long as August couldn’t get a job with a firm with a Teamsters’ contract, he was ineligible to run for any Teamster office or take a direct role in any of its politics.

            August and his wife, Phyllis Perna, eventually applied for jobs with Madison Metro, but were turned down.

            According to a spokesman for the bus company, the two did not score high enough on examinations all applicants for bus driver jobs must take. But August and Perna thought differently. They insisted the reason the bus company wouldn’t hire them stemmed from their previous activity with the union.

            They filed a political discrimination complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which investigated, but found no substance to their argument and turned them down. Eventually, the pair went to the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission where former Mayor Paul Soglin and his assistant, Phil Ball, eventually intervened and ordered the bus company to hire them.

            The bus driver jobs allowed August to get back into the mainstream of Teamsters’ politics and continue his campaign against Rutland from the inside rather than the outside. In no time at all, August was elected steward by the drivers, but the Local 695 leadership refused to accept the results. But, the drivers picked August as their steward a second time, so 695 relented, accepted August, but named two other stewards to serve with him.

            August refused to comment at all about Teamsters’ situation.

            “I’m sure you can understand why I can’t talk about any of this,” he remarked.

            The bus strike has also put the present Teamsters’ administration in a bit of a dilemma. The Teamsters’ bus drivers’ unit represents the largest concentration of anti-Rutland members in Local 695’s nine-county jurisdiction.

            In addition to August and Perna, James Marketti, a former fiery business agent for Local 695 who was ousted in the 1973 coup by the international, has returned to Madison and has also secured a job as a bus driver the past year.

            Marketti, who won a $20,000 court settlement against the international because of his firing in 1973, is considered to be an excellent organizer and an avid Rutland foe. In fact, Marketti was instrumental in the formation of Teamsters for Democracy before he left Madison to become a national organizer for the United Mine Workers. .

            In addition, one of the issues in the coming Local 695 election between Rutland and the Teamsters for Democracy will be the local’s recent losses in public employee membership. During the past few years, Local 695 has been decertified by several municipal police units and the TFD has used these decertifications as proof that Rutland’s administration isn’t doing its job.

            All this makes the current Madison bus strike even more important to the Teamsters’ leadership. Should Local 695 be able to somehow force the city to take its cost-of-living proposal, it would prove that the Teamsters still have the muscle, which would serve to enhance its reputation and influence with other public employee groups.

            David Shipley, Local 695’s business agent on the bus strike put it succinctly. Referring to the cost-of-living clause in the contract and the fact that 2,000 other city employees are watching the negotiations, Shipley recently told the Milwaukee Sentinel: “This is just not a matter of economics at all — it’s a political issue.”


Capital Times

July 7, 1980

City transit strikes: a lot in common


Capital Times Managing Editor

            Three major public transportation strikes in Madison —Yellow Cab in 1975, Checker Cab in 1978-79 and the nearly 10-week-old Madison bus strike — have a lot in common.

            All three strikes involve many of the same union leaders and all three have been marked by seemingly insoluble contract demands that have kept the city’s transportation system in nearly constant chaos for five years.

            Madison Metro, the city-owned, but privately operated bus firm, is not likely to go out of business as Yellow and Checker Cab did during their strikes, but a solution to that strike appears to be no closer today than May 1 when the drivers walked off their jobs over the cost-of-living issue.

            A fourth company, Union Cab of Madison, also has come under public scrutiny recently, because of its connection with the former Yellow and Checker Cab strikes and a close relationship with some of the leaders involved in the Madison bus dispute.

            Union, which its officers admit is now doing a business at this point in its history far beyond what its organizers ever dreamed, was founded in 1979 just as Checker was going out of business. Formed as a worker-owned cooperative, most of Union Cab’s fulltime employees are former Checker and Yellow taxi drivers who each own one $25 share of common stock in the company. Any profits it makes will be paid to the holders of common stock as dividends.

            In the beginning, city hall officials, including several aldermen, hailed the formation of Union Cab as “an example of how workers can control their own destiny.” Before long the Madison Development Corporation, which has the authority to dispense public funds to fledgling businesses, gave Union a $35,000, 6-percent unsecured loan, to get started.

            To get off the ground initially Union Cab also sold “preferred” stock to anyone who would contribute. About $17,000 of that stock was sold mainly to Madison residents who were ideologically sympathetic to the strike at Checker Cab and wanted to help the cabbies in their fight.

            Two who purchased preferred stock were John August and his wife, Phyllis Perna, who are now leaders of the bus strike and also were deeply involved in the 1975 Yellow Cab strike.

            “I bought that stock when the call went out to the community for help,” August said.

            Edward Miller, a former Yellow and Checker cab driver who is now an officer of Union Cab, explained that the preferred stock is “basically charity.”

            “There is no guarantee that those who bought that stock will ever get their money back or even get a dividend,” Miller said. “We hope someday we’ll be able to buy that stock back, but no one can predict when — and if — that will happen.”

            At any rate, August and Perna are now driving cabs full-time for Union as are four other striking bus drivers. Five more bus drivers are driving part-time for the company.

            The revelations that Union has hired some of the striking bus drivers has caused rumblings in city hall. Some aldermen, pointing out that part of Union’s initial funding came from public money, are contending the city is subsidizing a strike against itself.

            Consequently a $15,000 contract which was awarded to Union Cab to supplement elderly and handicapped bus service has been held up by the City Council’s Board of Estimates. Some city hall officials are worried that money will go to more striking drivers as Union expands its business.

            Union Cab’s Miller calls that whole argument “ridiculous.”

            “There are 255 people on strike at the bus company and to say we are subsidizing their strike by hiring 4 percent of that total doesn’t make any sense,” Miller said. He added that bus drivers like August were hired because they were experienced cab drivers and the best qualified for taxi driver jobs.

            August was a Yellow Cab driver and Teamsters Union Local 695’s steward on April 1, 1975, when the union called a strike against the cab firm over an effort to get a better contract. Three months later Yellow Cab folded the company and its 32-car fleet, putting the Yellow drivers out of work.

            Some contend to this day that the Teamsters purposely handled the Yellow negotiations in such a way as to ensure the company wouldn’t settle. The Yellow strike came just after a bitter battle for Local 695’s leadership, which pitted the incumbent 695 administration headed by Secretary-Treasurer Robert Rutland against the Teamsters for Democracy, of which August was an active and highly-visible member.

            Out of a job, August sought employment with other Teamster-represented firms. He and Perna, who was also a Yellow Cab driver, eventually applied at Madison Metro, which, of course, had a Teamster contract.

            Metro officials, however, did not hire the couple, claiming they had not scored high enough on the employment tests.

            The two then filed unfair labor complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming Madison Metro had discriminated against them for “political beliefs” based on their former union activity with the cab firm.

            The NLRB dismissed their complaint and a second appeal. The two then went to the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, which decided in an initial finding that their complaints had merit.

            The bus company, however, was in no mood to settle for the EOC’s determination and immediately demanded that the matter go to court.

            Phil Ball, an assistant to then Mayor Paul Soglin, was the EOC’s liaison with the mayor. It was no secret that Ball was sympathetic to the Yellow Cab strike and the Teamsters for Democracy’s efforts to oust Rutland’s Local 695 administration.

            As Madison Metro officials were preparing to hire an attorney, Soglin issued an order that the bus firm settle the dispute by hiring August and Perna and giving each a $1,000 cash settlement for the trouble they had in trying to get the jobs. Consequently, August and Perna finally became bus drivers in 1977.

            The connections with previous cab strikes, the Madison Metro dispute and Union Cab quite naturally have the former managements of both Yellow and Checker Cabs infuriated. Checker Cab folded after a six-month strike in late 1978 and early 1979 that involved many of the same leaders in the 1975Yellow strike.

            “I don’t understand how people in city hall can let firms like ours go down the drain and then give all kinds of tax money to others,” a former Checker Cab official complained. “There was absolutely no way the union would settle with us and they had half of city hall on their side. They wanted us to settle for 40-percent higher wages and wouldn’t even guarantee we would ever get a fare increase to pay for it.”

            Union Cab officials, however, feel the formation of their company was a logical solution to the constant labor turmoil on the city taxi scene.

            Union’s Miller admits that his drivers are getting the same 40-percent share of each fare they received under both Yellow and Checker before the long strikes. But, he adds, each cabbie’s take is a bit more because fares are higher today.

            Union Cab may have one other advantage over the two defunct firms, however. Because it is a worker-owned cooperative, it can’t have a union.


Capital Times

Feb. 3, 1989

Former talk show host

Gene Carey, 70, dies

            Gene Carey, a brash, colorful and outspoken figure in Madison for decades and a former cable TV talk show host known for his sometimes risque remarks, died Thursday at age 70 after suffering a heart attack.

            For the past 15 years he had operated Carey’s Carriage taxi service. He was a loquacious figure around town and at the airport during his taxi runs, easily recognizable in his ever-present cowboy hat.

            Carey and William Osborne Hart were co-hosts on the popular “What’s Your Problem?” TV show for six years in the late 1970s and early 1980s on Madison Cable Channel 4.

            Many tuned in and called in to hear Carey sound off, often in unquotable language, on human rights, philosophy, politics and personalities.

            “I try to run a dignified show,” Carey told a Capital Times reporter in 1982, “But then something comes up and I start yelling and raising hell. People accept it or they don’t.” Carey always ended his talk show with the statement: “If you don’t associate with SOBs, you got no friends at all.”

            He and Hart then invited listeners to a local restaurant to carry on some of the heated discussions.

            Hart said today he “often hid behind papers” when Carey started telling his one-liners or chewed out a caller.

            But he described him as one of the “sharpest, wittiest and alert self-taught persons” he knew, and labeled him as a “soft touch” under a gruff exterior.

            Funeral services will be held at the Ryan Funeral Home, 2418N. Sherman Ave., Saturday at 11 a.m. with his TV program co-host, Rev. Hart, officiating.

            Friends may call at the funeral home from 9:30 a.m. until the time of service.

Wisconsin State Journal

Feb. 4, 1989

Promise made, promise kept

Friend to read Farmer’s Almanac at funeral

            William Osborne Hart will keep a promise today when he reads from the Farmer’s Almanac at funeral services for Gene Carey, a former Madison cable TV talk show host best known for making people “bristle.”

            Carey, 70, of 117 Walter St., died Thursday after a heart attack.

            In December, Carey, thinking he might die first, asked Hart to speak at his funeral, Hart said Friday. But Carey didn’t want any big, fancy presentation.

            “I tell you what, Bill,” Hart recalled Carey saying. “Why don’t you just read from the Farmer’s Almanac?”

            Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Ryan Funeral Home, 2418N. Sherman Ave. Friends may call after 9:30 a.m.

            Carey gained notoriety as a cohost with Hart on the Madison Cable Channel 4 TV program “What’s Your Problem?’ The talk show aired for about six years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Carey also operated Carey’s Carriage taxi service in Madison for the last 15 years.

            “He really was a unique personality, really different,’ Hart, of Prairie du Sac, said. “Once you got to know him and got past all of the rhetoric, noise and bombast, he could be real insightful.”

            Carey was a self-taught man who had a profound understanding of human behavior, Hart said.

            “What’s Your Problem?” developed a substantial following because it dealt with issues that ranged from politics to religion, Hart said. Carey responded to callers’ questions, displaying an understanding of politics, justice and economics, Hart said. But he sometimes got carried away.

            When Carey got rolling, Hart ducked behind a newspaper, he said.

            “He had a way with words that would make people bristle,’ Hart said. Carey wasn’t afraid to shoot darts at the mighty and powerful because “he was looking after the little guys.”

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