Labor dispute surrounds carriage horses in Chicago

It's a heated labor dispute, but the workers aren't exactly speaking out.   

They're horses, the ones that pull carriages through some of Chicago’s fanciest neighborhoods. 

Animal rights activists say they're treated like sweatshop labor. But the carriage companies say the horses are healthy and happy.

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

While Black Friday shoppers were packing the Mag Mile last weekend, animal rights activist Jodie Wiederkehr was there for another reason. She was secretly recording 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.

Three carriage companies are licensed in Chicago. The city says they have been cited hundreds of times for various violations, including working horses more than six hours in a day.

The lawyer who represents all three carriage companies says there's been confusion about that six-hour rule for years, but if it were strictly enforced, the carriage companies would be out of business.

The city says a horse's hours are counted "whether pulling or standing," The carriage companies' attorney Tim Murphy says that's not a reasonable interpretation. 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 his horse like it's his family's pet.  

Wiederkehr wants the city to pull the companies' licenses. The city says nothing like that would happen until the companies have their day in court.

The company's attorney told FOX 32 the carriage companies always cooperate with city investigators and are hoping to clarify a number of issues regarding their operations.