Officials at the Port of Seattle have notified airport taxi drivers of a plan to force drivers into debt for unpaid per-trip fees, the collection of which had been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s unconscionable that, after receiving a $192.1 million taxpayer-funded bailout, the Port of Seattle can’t find a way to help low-wage immigrant workers who are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads during this crisis,” said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. “The fact that they announced their debt pay-back plan as a Friday afternoon news dump on International Workers Day just adds insult to injury.”
"It’s unconscionable that... the Port of Seattle can’t find a way to help low-wage immigrant workers."
Port Executive Director Stephen Metruck had previously announced at a March 24 Port Commission meeting that the Port would "grant a 3 month waiver of fees charged for each trip from the Airport" (see video minute 8:13), to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on a low-wage, immigrant workforce that lacks any safety net.
The Port later reversed course and said the fee waiver would only be a deferral, despite the Port being awarded a $192.1 million COVID bailout from the federal government in mid-April.
“After working seven hours yesterday, I came home with only $7 – and now the Port wants me to repay $6 of that back in fees,” said Sasha Nazari who supports his wife and son working as an Airport taxi driver. “I don’t have money to pay the mortgage. I received a shut-off notice on my electricity. Where am I going to get the money?”
Under the new taxi debt plan announced on May 1, if drivers are unable to repay trip fees by January 31, they would accrue interest and risk losing their job at the Airport.
Our union has been advocating in Olympia and Washington D.C. to make sure taxi and flat-rate drivers are eligible for unemployment benefits. Our work is starting to pay off! Drivers are starting to receive benefits through Washington State's Employment Security Department.
This is the latest as of Monday, April 20, on what you need to know to apply. Be sure to access more detailed instructions on our emergency Unemployment Guide here.
1. I already applied, do I need to apply again?
2. The website is crashing or it's timing out. What do I do?
3. What do I need before I apply?
4. Do I need to file my 2019 taxes before I apply?
5. What do I list as my primary occupation?
6. What date should I start my claim?
7. How much will I receive?
8. I made a mistake on my application. What do I do?
9. Should I request "Standby"?
10. I finished my application and was approved. Do I need to do anything else?
Teamster taxi drivers showing their collective power at the Union hall on Friday, May 25.
Teamster taxi and flat-rate drivers celebrated an announcement by airport contractor Eastside For Hire that the company would suspend its Pay-To-Work scheme and rescind the planned terminations of 29 vehicles and their drivers from the airport taxi fleet.
Drivers were prepared to take a strike authorization vote on Friday to protest the threat of terminations and a scheme requiring drivers to pay thousands of dollars or lose access to the airport. After Eastside’s announcement that it was suspending Pay-To-Work, the strike approval meeting turned into a celebration.
“This is a great victory. We stood together in our union to protect our jobs,” said Suldan Mohamed, a driver who has worked in the taxi industry for 13 years. “We are not divided by color, religion, or background. We are all one community trying to support our families.”
“We were able to achieve this through our unity,” added Harinder Singh. “But the threat is not over. We need to stay united and be ready to take action again if necessary.”
"We were able to achieve this through our unity."
On April 17, hundreds of drivers participated in a peaceful protest at Sea-Tac Airport to protest Eastside’s plan to reduce the taxi fleet and impose additional fees on drivers. Drivers spoke out at Port Commission meetings against the unjust terminations and met individually with commissioners.
The Port ultimately directed Eastside to rescind its plan and said it would exercise its right to inspect Eastside’s records related to the terminations. At today’s meeting, drivers wrote cards thanking the Commission for their support. “We want to thank the Port of Seattle for listening to drivers and taking this issue seriously,” Mohamed said. “This is a great day for us and our families.”
“I want to congratulate Teamster taxi drivers on this important victory,” said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters 117. “Drivers showed that by standing together in their union they can protect their livelihoods and prevail in the face of unjust working conditions. Our union is stronger through their membership, unity, and resolve.”
Teamster taxi and flat-rate drivers pack a Port of Seattle Commission meeting on April 24.
Sea-Tac Airport taxi and flat-rate drivers responded with calls for justice after taxi airport contractor Eastside for Hire announced the termination of 29 drivers from the airport fleet. Drivers received a communication from Eastside of the terminations on Tuesday, April 24.
“I don’t have thousands of dollars to pay to work at the airport,” said driver Fitaber Gudina in her testimony before Port of Seattle Commissioners on Tuesday. “The only money I have is to buy bread for my children. Please, stop this injustice.”
“We want to be able to work to pay our mortgages and pay for college for our children,” testified Michael Megnta, who has been driving in Seattle for 27 years. “We believe in this society and want to raise the next great generation. Let us work!”Read more
Taxi drivers are being fined $100 for speaking out about the disgusting state of Port bathrooms.
The Port of Seattle has stooped to a new low. The Port has issued $100 citations to taxi drivers who participated in peaceful demonstrations in August over the deplorable state of Port bathrooms for drivers, among other issues.
By protesting publicly, drivers finally compelled the Port to acknowledge the problem and take action to fix it. Previous efforts by the drivers to raise the bathroom issue with Port officials had fallen on deaf ears.
The Port has approved funding for the design and construction of the new bathrooms, but apparently the drivers who exercised their right to speak out on horrendous state of the old bathrooms will be picking up part of the tab.
Drivers have five days to pay the $100 or face suspension and additional citations from the Port. Some drivers have reportedly appealed the citations, only to have their appeals denied.
Taxi drivers pack the Port of Seattle Commission meeting room at Sea-Tac Airport to demand change.
It was not nearly enough. That was the consensus of dozens of Teamster taxi drivers who testified at yesterday’s Port of Seattle Commission meeting about the Port’s plan to lower the per-trip rate drivers are paying.
Drivers have been forking over $7.00 to Eastside For Hire, the company that holds the Airport taxi contract, every time they pick up a passenger at the Airport. That amount was set to increase by $.50 at the beginning of October.
But after months of pressure from drivers and the community to improve conditions at the Airport, the Port stepped in to stop the increase and acted instead to decrease that amount to $6 per trip.
Drivers say it’s too little to make a difference. “Thank you for the reduction, but this does not solve the problem,” said Ali Sugule, who has been driving at the Airport for two years. “We need a voice at the negotiations table. We don’t want this contract going forward because it is hurting us.”
Airport taxi drivers have been calling out Eastside for months for multiple violations of its contract with the Port and point to a rigged system that enriches both Eastside and the Port at their expense.Read more
Drivers demanding fair working conditions and reinstating of their terminated coworker Ali Sugule (left).
“Unfair!” “Justice!” Loud voices of taxi drivers resonated across the parking garage at SeaTac Airport yesterday. East Side for Hire management stared in bitter frustration at drivers who exercised their right to collectively voice their issues with their dispatch company and the Port of Seattle who contracts with Eastside by suspending work for an hour. It was their second day demonstrating against inhumane working conditions and unjust retaliation by the company. Eastside for Hire has failed to reinstate the 18 drivers who were unjustly suspended for participating in a demonstration on August 21rst.Read more
Taxi drivers at Sea-Tac Airport express their growing frustration with poor working conditions and unjust terminations.
Taxi drivers exerted their collective power at Sea-Tac Airport today by staging an hour-long work stoppage that sent Port officials and the drivers’ dispatch company reeling.
At approximately 9:30 a.m., drivers in the airport taxi lot got out of their cabs, raised signs, and began chanting, “Unfair, unfair!” Cab service for arriving passengers slowed to a trickle.
"I have to fight for my freedom."
“I work 16 hours to try to pay my bills. When I got home yesterday, I almost fell down,” said Alamu Tegegn. “I said to myself, ‘If I continue like this, I will die.’ So I have to fight for my freedom.”
The strike represented the culmination of months of frustration over humiliating working conditions and the unjust termination of union supporter, Ali Sugule.
On August 8, Sugule had criticized the airport dispatch company, Eastside For Hire, in public testimony at a Port Commission meeting. His dispatch services were revoked later that week.Read more
Teamster driver Ali Sugule with his family. Sugule is fighting for his job after Eastside For Hire revoked his access to dispatch.
Port of Seattle commissioners spent the better part of their two and a half hour special meeting yesterday discussing a range of issues, including airport expansion and biofuel production, but when it came to taking public comment from drivers who are being exploited at the Port’s expense, they cut matters short.
The reason? They had a luncheon to attend.
“We have a hard stop on this meeting at 11:14,” said Commission President Tom Albro at precisely 11:07 A.M. That gave the public all of seven minutes to testify on critical issues impacting airport workers and the community.
A dozen or so Teamster drivers had been waiting more than two hours to speak out on a range of injustices at the airport. The drivers had taken precious time away from their workday to express their concerns, but had to leave without testifying when the Commission unexpectedly shut down the meeting.Read more
The fall issue of our Fare Times newsletter is now available. The Fare Times provides news and information for Teamster taxicab operators.
In this issue, we have an update on the airport contract that the Port signed with Eastside For Hire this month.
We believe that drivers' income will decrease under the new contract. Although we weren't able to prevent the Port from signing it, we were able to achieve important protections for drivers and their families.
One of the requirements under the contract is that Eastside must sign a "Labor Peace" agreement with the drivers' Union within 60 days.
We will be scheduling demands meetings soon so that drivers can talk about their priorities for the agreement. We'll let you know once those meetings have been scheduled.
Access a PDF of the Fare Times here.