The District’s 6,000 independent taxi drivers have unionized in an effort to give drivers more say in regulating their industry, authorities said.
The D.C. Taxi Operators Association “will be affiliated with Teamsters Local 922 in Washington,” according to the Teamsters.org website. The reasons cited for the cabbies’ move include a desire to have a “united, collective voice for positive change in their industry.” Cab drivers in the District are either independent owners of their cabs or lease-operators.
A meeting was scheduled Oct. 29 for the new association.
“For far too long, taxi drivers in Washington, D.C., have not had a strong voice to provide input about regulations and policies that affect their livelihoods,” said Ferline Buie, president of Local 922, in a statement on the website.
Last year, D.C. leaders passed sweeping taxicab reform. According to the section of the D.C. website for the Taxicab Commission, which regulates cabs, a new measure took effect Oct. 1 requiring the adoption of, among other things, “the uniform taxicab color scheme.” As of Nov. 1, all taxis must be equipped with a “standardized dome light.” Failure to comply may result in a cab being impounded.
For years, the commission received constant complaints about some cabbies charging exorbitant fees, keeping dirty cars, refusing to pick up Black men and other issues. The commission sought regulations with more teeth and stepped up enforcement. Earlier this year, hack inspectors conducted undercover investigations that made headlines, including one that led to the arrest of an alleged illegal driver after he ran when taxi investigators attempted to stop him.
The Teamsters claim the regulations have been unfair, requiring cabbies to make expensive changes with little turnaround time. Cabbies complain that the cost of painting their taxis and installing the dome lights would exceed $1,500 and the installation of credit-card readers, another new regulation, has led to “burdensome” fees and a delay in drivers being paid.
The drivers, who average less than $30,000 and work upwards of 100 hours a week, want more representation on the commission, where decisions are made, authorities said.
Cabbies in D.C. are not the only ones to unionize recently. In 2012, Teamsters Local 117 in Seattle organized the Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association representing more than 500 drivers, Teamsters.org said.
Drivers do not oppose fair regulations, but the way in which the regulations have been imposed—with a lack of driver input—has been unfair. They also need more time for the current regulations to take effect. They also are finding that the regulations being imposed cost more than first believed, and they should not have to shoulder all of the costs. To have their cabs painted as required, drivers face costs upwards of $1,100. New dome lights cost about $450, double what drivers initially were told. Service fees and transaction fees for new credit card machines are burdensome, and vendors are taking a very long time to pay drivers.
Already struggling to make ends meet, the average driver earns just $25,000 to $30,000 a year. Many work seven days a week and 16-hour days are not uncommon. Drivers must make car or lease payments and pay for repairs and maintenance. They spend as much as $40 per day on fuel and $100 or more per month for auto insurance.
“Our goal is to provide safe, reliable service to our customers,” said Jesse Black, a driver for nearly 40 years. “To do that, we need a strong voice, and our association with the Teamsters will give us that voice.”
Last year, Teamsters Local 117 in Seattle organized more than 500 taxi drivers into the Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association. The association works closely with the union to improve working conditions for taxi cab operators throughout the Seattle area.
The first meeting of the Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association will be held Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 4 p.m. at Teamsters Local 639, 3100 Ames Place, NE, Washington, DC 20018.
To learn more, go to www.teamster.org/dctaxi. Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and use #dctaxi to track updates. “Like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.