Guild continues to press AP on Chicago cab fares

The News Media Guild continues to press The Associated Press on its move to rescind coverage of Chicago cab fares for staffers who work late night and early morning shifts.

The policy took effect June 6, just two weeks after an email from Central Region editor Tom Berman alerted the staffers to the change.

In response, Chicago staffers created a “cab fare safety fund” where staffers can donate to help their colleagues stay safe during off hours in the notoriously dangerous city. It was placed in a prominent spot, so that management can hear the coins dropped by supportive co-workers.

A "cab fare safety fund" where Chicago staffers can drop coins - within earshot of managers - was set up support the overnight staffers who have to find new ways to travel due to the AP policy change.

A “cab fare safety fund” where Chicago staffers can drop coins – within earshot of managers – was set up support the staffers who have to find new ways to travel due to the AP policy change.

Three years ago, AP relocated its Chicago office from the downtown business center to a neighborhood featuring a pawn shop, a flophouse and federal prison. But AP decided covering the fares was too costly.

The AP declined to rescind the decision as the Guild requested.

The union has noted that Section 2 of Article 31 of the contract states: “The Employer will, within limits of its direct control, ensure employees’ safe passage on streets, parking lots and other areas near the office.”

The taxi fare decision came amid soaring shooting and murder rates in Chicago, with reports showing  both jumped more than 50 percent in the first five months of the year. At least 233 people had been killed as of May 27th. The murder rate in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, is higher than that of New York and Los Angeles, it said.

In response to emails from several staffers about their concerns, Berman said paying taxi fares has become “a prohibitively expensive accommodation” and “that at most other businesses, it’s the responsibility of employees to get to or from work, regardless of hours.”

“AP needs to find a way to cover the news and protect the staffers most vulnerable to threats _ those who arrive early and leave late,” said Guild President Martha Waggoner.

The practice of paying taxi fares in Chicago dates to at least July 2009, when then-Central Region editor David Scott sent an email saying that AP would pay fares for anyone whose shift began after 10 p.m. or whose shift ended between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. “There should be no reason that you ever place yourself at risk. Be safe and always _ and take a cab without hesitation if that’s best  for you,” he wrote. “All that I ask is that you file the expenses in a timely manner.”

Scott reiterated the practice in January 2012, when he advised staffers that paying taxi fares “is a safety measure.”