Teamsters to help Seattle-area cabdrivers voice their concerns
Seattle-area taxi drivers have created, in conjunction with the Teamsters, the Western Washington Taxi Cab Operators Association.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle-area taxi drivers have a new ally in their battles with competitors and government regulators: the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Because they aren't on anyone's payroll as employees, drivers won't become members of one of the nation's most powerful unions.
But the Western Washington Taxi Cab Operators Association, formally launched by drivers at a meeting at the Teamsters Building in Tukwila on Saturday, will contract with Teamsters Local 117 to lobby governments on its behalf.
The new alliance will address continuing complaints about competition from "flat-rate" drivers who operate under a different set of rules, new workers' compensation premiums and other business costs.
About half of the 2,000 active cabdrivers in King County signed cards in the last three months expressing interest in creating the new drivers association, said Teamster Local 117 Organizing Director Leonard Smith. Drivers who join the voluntary association will pay dues.
Yellow Cab driver Gurminder Kahlon said he and his colleagues organized the new group, with Teamster help, "so we can have some voice" in addressing issues of concern.
Among the thorniest issues is the continuing litany of claims by taxi drivers of illegal behavior by some drivers of limousines, executive sedans and "for-hire" vehicles, who are barred from soliciting clients on the street without an advance reservation.
Those alternative vehicles — some painted to resemble taxis — charge a flat rate rather than an officially approved metered rate.
The taxi and limousine industries both supported state legislation that took effect this year allowing Seattle to crack down on "rogue" limo drivers who improperly solicit passengers on the sidewalk or inside hotels and restaurants, Puget Sound Limousine Association President Tom Stotler said.
The new law doesn't affect for-hire vehicles that aren't classified as limousines.
Cab owners say they also are being hurt by the high cost of workers' compensation premiums they began paying this year. Taxi drivers are responsible for their own health-care costs.
Kahlon said he must subtract from his earnings $1,000 in weekly costs, including fees to pick up passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and to his dispatch company and liability insurance.
"I have to work around 12 hours a day, seven days a week. We don't have time to spend with our families," Kahlon said.
But Joe Blondo, a driver since 1987 and member of the Seattle-King County Taxi Advisory Commission, said he won't join the Taxi Cab Operators Association.
"Any time we get people involved who have not driven a taxi, they screw things up," he said.
Far from ignoring taxi drivers' complaints about flat-rate drivers, Blondo said, "the city is coming down on them hard" on flat-rate drivers, and he is hopeful King County will follow Seattle's lead.
That job is far from done, though, said the Teamsters' Smith, and local governments "have created a situation where drivers are paying too much and receiving too little. ...
"You're putting the regulated part of the industry at a competitive disadvantage. You're choking the business life out of the people you're supposed to be regulating."
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or email@example.com