D.C.’s cab drivers join forces with the Teamsters

October 30, 2013
A pile of buttons highlight the new partnership between the Teamsters and D.C.'s taxicab drivers. (The Washington Post -- Lori Aratani)
A pile of buttons highlight the new partnership between the Teamsters and D.C.’s taxicab drivers. (Lori Aratani/The Washington Post)

If it seemed a bit harder to hail a cab Tuesday afternoon, it wasn’t your imagination.

That’s because on Tuesday, hundreds of D.C. taxicab drivers were at a Teamsters meeting hall in Northeast Washington for the first meeting of the Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association. The drivers — concerned about new rules that require their vehicles to have credit card readers and dome lights — decided to affiliate with the Teamsters in hopes that it will give them a bigger voice in negotiations with the D.C. Taxicab Commission.

Streets around the hall were jammed with cabs. A steady stream of drivers made their way to the meeting. Inside the hall, it was standing room only.

“From this day forward, Washington, D.C. is a Teamster taxi town,” said Jeff Farmer, director of organizing for the Teamsters.

Added Ferline Buie, president of Teamsters Local 922: “It is time for a little respect.”

Drivers were receptive to the message.

Passengers have long complained that the city’s taxi fleet is unreliable and lacks some of the modern conveniences of other big city taxi fleets, like the ability to pay with credit cards. In response, District officials passed new rules to overhaul the system and make it more competitive with a bevy of new car services, such as Uber.

But the overhaul has left many drivers frustrated and concerned about whether they can afford the new upgrades.

“This is the only way we can fight,” said Foday Conteh, who has been driving a cab for more than 20 years. “We have to fight as a group.”

D.C. taxicab drivers sign up to join the new Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association, which will be affiliated with Teamsters Local 922. (Lori Aratani/The Washington Post)
D.C. taxicab drivers sign up to join the new Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association, which will be affiliated with Teamsters Local 922. (Lori Aratani/The Washington Post)

Conteh said the new rules have been costly for him. He is among a number of drivers who have had trouble being paid for credit card transactions even though he’s had his credit card reader in place for more than a month.

“Everything is being decided by people who don’t drive cabs,” said Lloyde England, another veteran driver. “I came here tonight because we don’t have representation.”

DCTC officials noted that two taxicab drivers are members of the DCTC. They also said several public hearings were held prior to the adoption of new rules. But they said they are open to discussions.

“We welcome the opportunity to speak with driver groups,” said DCTC spokesman Neville Waters.

This is not the first time D.C.’s cab drivers have formed an association. In 1993, a group of drivers formed the Dominion of DC Professional Taxicab Association. Earlier this month the association called for a taxi strike to send a message to city officials that drivers were not happy with recent changes. The group has also coordinated protest rallies at Freedom Plaza.

How effective the new association will be remains to be seen. Because drivers are not direct employees of the city, the group will not function like a traditional union, where a contract is negotiated and signed. Instead, representatives of the Teamsters will offer drivers resources to organize and have a bigger say in matters that affect their livelihood. Drivers will pay $25 a month to be part of the group.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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