Hack Attack

Cabbie Steve LaBosco: Risky work, sure, but at least he's not a lumberjack
Mike Mosedale

In 19 years of driving cab for Red & White Taxi, Steve LaBosco has never been robbed. There have been a few close calls. Just a few weeks back, after his cab broke down, LaBosco was accosted by three young ruffians on a south Minneapolis side street. One of them pulled out what looked to be a .45.

"He told me to get on the ground. I said to him, 'I'm not getting on the ground. Don't shoot me,'" LaBosco recalls. "If he'd just asked me for money, I would have given it to him. But I ain't getting on the ground for nobody. So I turned to run and he shot me in the leg."

With a pellet gun, as it turned out.

LaBosco considers himself lucky that he hasn't suffered anything worse than a BB to the leg. Like many veteran cabbies, LaBosco also attributes his continued survival to a street-wise sensibility. "You've got to know who to pass up," he explains. "I pick up most people. But I'm not going to pick someone up at the corner of Franklin and Park at 2:00 a.m. If you're not naive, driving cab is not that dangerous."

But considering recent events, LaBosco has been understandably warier than usual lately. Just a month ago, another Red & White driver--46-year-old Jordan Rygajlo of Minneapolis--was shot in a botched robbery on the north side. Rygajlo survived the attack, but he was lucky: Over the summer, two other Minneapolis drivers (including another who worked at Red & White) were killed during robberies.

Three shootings in four months constitute a statistical anomaly. But they also reflect a pattern of escalating violence against drivers, according to Pat White, the manager at Red & White. Much of the violence doesn't involve guns, so it doesn't always make the headlines. But the drivers share their war stories with each other. "There are a lot of brazen acts of people trying to strong-arm drivers, taking money out of their shirt pockets," White observes. "The drivers are a little bit on edge these days."

In fact, driving cab has been among the country's most dangerous jobs for the better part of two decades. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, cab drivers are more likely to be murdered on the job than workers in any other occupation--and about four times more likely to be the victims of homicide than police officers.

That's not to say taxi drivers have the most dangerous profession in the country. Nationally, the occupation with the highest rate of worker death is logging. According to BLS, there were about 117 fatalities per 100,000 loggers in 2002. Commercial fishing was the next most dangerous, with 71.1 deaths per 100,000 workers. (Accordingly, the states with the highest overall worker injury rates are Maine and Alaska, respectively; logging and fishing remain economic mainstays in both states.)

Drivers/sales workers--including cabbies and pizza-delivery men--average 37.9 deaths per 100,000 workers. That's a fraction more than roofers and well above other top-10 dangerous professions, which include farming, construction, and trucking.

In Minnesota, workplace fatality numbers are not adjusted to reflect rates by occupation. In terms of the raw numbers, farming and trucking have long been numbers one and two in work-related deaths, according to Brian Zaidman, a research analyst with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

From 1992 to 2002, five Minnesota cabbies were killed on the job, a figure that represents about .5 percent of all worker fatalities during that period. Nationwide, Zaidman says, cabbies typically account for about one percent of workers killed on the job. In part, explains Zaidman, the lower percentage in Minnesota reflects an overall lower rate of workplace violence. From 1998 to 2002, just 4.9 percent of workplace deaths in Minnesota were caused by assault, compared to 15.4 percent nationally.

Since the state's labor department began tracking fatal work injuries in 1991, the Minnesota numbers have ranged from a high of 113 (1993) to a low of 69 (2000). Adjusted for size of workforce, according to Zaidman, Minnesota is tied for 18th highest among the states that keep records of job fatalities.

As Red & White drivers show up for the 3:00 p.m. shift change at the company garage on East Franklin Avenue, there is not a lot of talk about such actuarial hazards. Most drivers are more concerned with the continuing business slump in recent years. Some drivers point to a post-9/11 drop in business travel. Others think it has to do with more competition from limo drivers.

And some others attribute the decline in business to welfare reform. They say poor people, who constitute a significant percentage of the clientele in Minneapolis, are simply not taking cabs as often. And that same economic crunch on the poor, they surmise, is probably what is driving up the robbery attempts.

Cabbie Burt Blackwell says he, like many drivers, has found a way to cut his risk. "Now I racially discriminate," he explains. "Ninety-nine percent of the situations involve a certain mid-teen-to-20s black. Criminally debauched black kids. So if they look like a punk, they're not getting in my cab."

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