Dispute Over Carriage Horses: Do They Qualify for Labor Protections?

It’s a heated labor dispute, even though the “workers” can’t speak out on their own.

If you’ve ever been a tourist in Chicago, you’ve likely seen the horses that pull carriages through some city’s swankiest neighborhoods. The carriage operators claim that those animals are healthy and happy. But animal rights advocates claim the horses are treated like sweatshop labor.

We don’t find anything humane about it,” said Jodie Wiederkehr of Chicago Alliance for Animals.

While Black Friday shoppers were packed shoulder-to-shoulder along the Magnificent Mile over Thanksgiving weekend, animal activist Jodie Wiederkehr showed up for another reason. She was taking video of horse drawn carriages to show that the horses are overworked.

“The horses on Saturday were worked nine plus hours. Most over ten, one over nine, and at least one over eleven hours,” she said.

There are three licensed carriage companies in Chicago. According to city officials, they have been cited hundreds of times for numerous violations, including working their horses more than six hours per day.

The attorney who represents all three carriage companies claims that there’s been significant confusion about that six-hour rule for many years, and if it were strictly enforced the carriage companies would go out of business.

According to the city, a horse’s hours are counted “whether pulling or standing.” Tim Murphy, the carriage companies’ attorney, explains that this is not a reasonable interpretation, and the company’s carriage drivers agree.

“Each horse, maximum work, like six, maybe seven hours, this is max because between rides, stand resting,” said Omar Chinibkov of Antique Coach and Carriage.

Chinibkov says he’s a professional horse trainer who loves and cares for his horse like it were his family pet.

Wiederkehr, on the other hands, wants the city to revoke the companies’ licenses. The city says no such thing would happen until after the companies have their day in court.

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Emery Reddy