I think Virginia Senate Candidate Jim Webb should support the strikers. In the process he will distinguish himself as a fighting Democrat who cares about more than the monied interests. I sent a note to Jim on his website. Perhaps you will join me after learning more.
Contact Jim Webb here:
Some facts on the strike below the fold.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, in charge of both Reagan National and Dulles International Airports, is debating changing a more than 40-year-old taxi management framework. At the same time, the unofficial Washington Flyer Drivers Association of the Dulles Airport Washington Flyer Taxi Service is vowing to continue its sporadic work strikes for what it calls a lack of job security.
Beginning April 26, some drivers for the Washington Flyer Taxi Service, who are the sole drivers permitted under contract to operate out of Dulles Airport, began a series of work stoppages and protests, including three drivers who went on week-long hunger strikes. According to several board members of association, the strikes are being done to bring attention to a lack of an oversight committee to hear and address their complaints with their independent management company, Dulles Taxi Systems.
So what do the Dulles airport authorities think? Not their problem.
Hamilton declined to answer specific questions about the nature of the strike and the relationship with Dulles Taxi Systems and the drivers, stating that the conflict is solely between the drivers and Dulles Taxi Systems.
"These are independent cab drivers and they have their independent relationship with the contractor," she added. "What we're concerned about is in what is the best way to provide our customers with a service. It is very important for any airport to have dependable and quality taxi service."
There taxi drivers routinely work 16 hours days 6 or 7 days a week in order to pay their bills. It's not like the cost of living in this area is exactly trivial. They have to pay to rent the official Dulles Flyer taxis, the only taxis allowed to take passengers from the airport.
THE STRIKE WAS in protest of Dulles Taxi Systems policies, according to Mesfin Belayneh, a driver for Washington Flyer since 1998 who was also one of the protesters to engage in the hunger strikes.
"We have a lot of problems with DTS and we have tried to meet with them and they have not been able to resolve our issues," Belayneh said as he sat in his taxi in line for fares at the Dulles Airport. "We wanted them to recognize our drivers association and to protect our rights as workers."
"The drivers never have any input into what goes on with [DTS]," said Abdul Ahamed, a driver and an elected board member for the drivers' association. "We want to address our problems, but it's a one-way street. It is their way, or you hit the road."
"I'm a little perplexed by" the strikes, said Charlie King, president of Dulles Taxi Systems. "I'm aware that there have been problems in the past with certain issues ... but our company has had and will continue to have an open-door policy with any of our drivers with a complaint.
Ahamed said that he and the other drivers have no independent body in which to file complaints of "abuse, mistreatment and discrimination," and that Dulles Taxi Systems holds the right to suspend the work license of any driver without giving a reason or the possibility for an official appeal.
"It's like somebody committing a crime against you and you're not able to go to court," said Ahamed, who alleged that he was fired last week for unknown reasons. "They can kick out anyone they want without compensation."
"If we pay [almost] $170 a week [licensing fee] to operate out of this airport and they cannot protect our rights and listen to what we say, why do we pay that?" said Belayneh.
As part of the original contract with Dulles Taxi Systems in 2000, the airports authority facilitated the creation of a Taxi Cab Advisory Committee as a forum for members representing the airport, Dulles Taxi Systems, the drivers and the airports authority to meet to discuss any specific work-related problems "three to four times a year," according to Hamilton.
The drivers and Dulles Taxi Systems have since been able to work out driver-requested increases in rates and a fuel surcharge, Hamilton added.
"I think that the advisory board has had success in addressing a wide range of issues," said King. "[The drivers] have a lot of say in what goes on."
According to Ahamed, the panel does not allow the drivers any form of effective representation and while he confirmed that the increases were made through the panel, he said that they only came after several months of threats to strike.
FOR SOME OF the drivers, the struggle for fair and just labor representation with Dulles Taxi Systems is more than just about wages or rates, but about standing up for the rights they have come to enjoy as American citizens.
"I come from a society that is very button-down, very strict," said Zamani Ali, a driver with Washington Flyer for 8 years who immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan in 1982. "I came here and I learned about the first amendment [guaranteeing free speech] and I learned about the rights that you are granted in America and I don't see them here. Something is wrong."
Ali, a board member who also participated in the hunger strike, said that his license to drive his cab was suspended by Dulles Taxi Systems "for standing up for my rights, and the rights of other drivers."
Although King confirmed that both Ali and Ahamed have had their licenses suspended, he would not discuss specifics.
"We meet with and listen to our drivers all the time, and we listen to the leaders of" the drivers' association, King said. "We have had and will continue to have an open-door policy with all of our drivers."
King and Hamilton said that these threats of strikes and increased problems with the drivers in recent weeks have been historically consistent with the process for a new contract.
"I think the biggest need we had to address is to get some stability in our contract situation," King said. "Historically, during these times, there have been issues when the drivers will use this time to try and get their voices heard on certain issues."