Over 100 cab drivers demanded a meeting with an Arlington County official late last week to complain about working conditions.
Arlington taxi drivers who emerged from a one-hour, closed-door meeting with the chairman of the county board on Wednesday called the session “useless” after expressing their complaints to chairman Walter Tejada about working conditions.
More than 100 taxi drivers demanded the meeting last Friday when they entered the county government building and refused to leave after cabbie Abdellah Ouazzani was fired by the Yellow Cab Company in Arlington. Ouazzani claims he was fired for speaking out at a September protest in front of local TV cameras.
“They have the power to do whatever they want to do,” Ouazzani said.
Yellow Cab Co. vice president Charlie King denies the allegation, saying the driver was terminated for his “individual conduct.” King declined to comment further.
Following the Wednesday meeting drivers briefly rallied in a show of unity inside the government building’s lobby, chanting, “I am a taxi driver! And I am somebody!” They presented chairman Tejada a list of complaints about Arlington’s heavily regulated taxi industry of seven licensed companies: the companies charge drivers extortionate rental fees while preventing them from switching companies through stringent legislation, and drivers say they can be fired for any offense without recourse.
“We didn't get anything. We went in with a lot of questions and came out with nothing,” said Aziz Boughaba, who said he quit driving cabs because of “abuse.”
In an interview with WAMU 88.5, board chairman Tejada said the meeting was productive but county legislators have limited authority to help the drivers. He promised to look into their complaints.
“We feel a lot was accomplished because, among other things, we wanted to hear out and have the drivers express their concerns and make sure their elected officials are listening to them,” Tejada. “We don't have the authority to regulate labor practices in cab companies, so there are some limitations we have as a county.”
Tejada said the county Human Rights Office will document Ouazzani’s claim that could possibly lead to an investigation.
“They are alleging the companies are mistreating them. They allege poor working conditions. One of the things I asked them was what does that mean? Poor working conditions, we need to understand what that means and if there is anything within our authority that can be addressed, we will,” he said.
Workers’ rights activists who are helping organize the cabbies’ efforts said the county board is hiding behind the county code instead of actively changing it to help drivers.
“The Arlington County Board creates the taxi code for the country. There are some limitations on what they can and cannot do, but certainly they can regulate how drivers are treated and passengers are treated. That is part of due process,” said Jon Liss, an activist with Tenants and Workers United.
Taxi drivers may change companies in Arlington, as long as there are available slots. Each cab company has a limited number of licensed vehicles it may employ. For instance, Yellow Cab Company may have 100 vehicles on the road. If all 100 vehicles are occupied, a job-seeking driver would have to wait for a cabbie to quit, get fired, or retire before being able to apply for a job at Yellow Cab.
Liss said the movement of taxi drivers from one company to another is an important issue, but is secondary to the basic rights and protections drivers are seeking.