Dulles Cab Firm Leaves Out Protest Leaders

By Tom Jackman
The Washington Post
Wednesday, August 2, 2000; 11:57 AM

Cabbies who picketed and protested for months to oust the operator of the taxi service at Dulles International Airport now have another fight on their hands: a battle for their jobs.

Forty-nine cabbies--including many who recently spent as much as $22,000 to buy their own taxis--were not rehired yesterday when Transportation General of Arlington assumed the contract to operate the Washington Flyer Taxis.

Among those left out were the president, vice president and other officers of the Washington Flyer Taxi Drivers Association, formed last year to lead the successful protest against what they saw as the oppressive reign of the former contractor, Farouq Massoud.

"It's ironic," said Abdalla O. Nasir, president of the association. "The same people who have benefited from our struggle--because there was no way they would have won this contract--to treat us this way."

About a dozen ousted drivers picketed outside Dulles yesterday, and Nasir said the association would consider a strike at the airport today. The association staged strikes, pickets and other protests last year to draw attention to the management techniques of Massoud, who had held the Dulles cab contract exclusively since 1989.

In March, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority bypassed Massoud, who contends he was the low bidder, and selected Transportation General.

On the company's frenzied first day on the job, its vice president denied targeting the drivers association officers. "We took well over 90 percent of the previous Washington Flyer drivers," said Charles O. King of Transportation General, which will operate the Dulles cabs under the name Dulles Taxi Systems. "There simply wasn't room for everybody. There's no animus toward the guys that had been working out here. Everyone who applied received one interview. Their interview and records were considered. Decisions had to be made." He declined to discuss reasons for individuals who were not rehired.

Nasir, who has been driving at Dulles for nearly 10 years, and other association members said they also weren't told why they were let go. Of the 472 drivers, all but 49 were hired, Nasir said. Of those 49, 44 were active supporters of the association, and most had clean driving records and few complaints, he said.

The drivers' previous protests centered in large part on Massoud's insistence on renting half the cabs in his fleet to drivers, at a cost of $500 per week, plus insurance. When Massoud lost the contract, he sold most of his cabs to the drivers, who expected they would remain on the job.

Abdul Nikzad, a director of the association, said he recently paid $22,000 to Massoud for a 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe. "They fire us for no reason," he said. "I have three kids. I have to feed them."

The drivers said the new contractor had hired Massoud's former top assistant to help identify the activists among them.

King said the drivers shouldn't necessarily have bought Massoud's cars. "They certainly had no reason to believe they were guaranteed a job," King said.

The ousted drivers said King told them in a meeting that he would deal only with the drivers individually--not with the association. King acknowledged that was his viewpoint.

"We view our drivers as individual businessmen," King said. "We've had great success in fostering relationships with our drivers. Our only desire is to improve the service and improve the conditions here and help them make more money." Transportation General also operates about 700 cabs in Northern Virginia under the Red Top and Yellow Cab names.

The airports authority declined to get involved in the conflict, noting that it has hundreds of contractors spread around Dulles. "We would not be involved in telling business people who they should hire," spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said.

Brian J. Moran, a lawyer for the association, said, "The very individuals that they [Transportation General] owe the contract to, they are just eliminating. They're trying to crush the association."

But King said: "The drivers' association leadership takes full credit for the replacement of the previous contractor. I respectfully have to disagree with that. We believe we're here on our own merit."

© 2000 The Washington Post Company