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.
Starting on Saturday, April 18th at 8PM, taxi and flat-rate drivers can begin applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
STEP 1: APPLY (AND GET DENIED) FOR REGULAR STATE UNEMPLOYMENT
“Get denied so you can be approved.” It sounds weird, but it’s true.
In order to unlock access to federal Covid-19 PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance), you must first apply (and get denied) for regular state unemployment.
There are two ways:
- Online at https://secure.esd.wa.gov/home/(Easiest way. Use computer or laptop to register.)
- By phone at 1-800-318-6022 (very long wait times)
Many questions on the application won’t make sense to your job, but answer to the best of your ability. If driving taxi or flat-rate is your only job, DO NOT list any employer on your application.
If you experience technical difficulties with your online user account, click here.
STEP 2: SUBMIT A COVID-19 PUA CLAIM & PROVIDE DOCUMENTATION
After you have been denied regular state unemployment, an alert will show up in your online account allowing you to Apply for a Covid-19 PUA Claim. When you apply, you need to submit documentation of your earnings for the past year. So you should compile that documentation before you apply. The best types of documentation include your 2019 tax filing, 1099 forms, or other formal tax documentation.
After you have applied, you will start earning $835/week right away, which is the minimum payment under the PUA program ($235/wk base payment + $600/wk enhancement).
Once a claims agent has reviewed and verified your earnings documentation, you will then be paid your full benefit amount, including retroactive payments back dated to March 29 or your date of eligibility.
STEP 3: FILE WEEKLY CLAIMS
File a claim every week to continue receiving benefits.
As you know, the Port signed the taxi contract with Eastside for Hire earlier this month. Now we must continue our fight to hold Eastside and the Port accountable.
We worked hard to pressure the Port to include “labor harmony” language in the contract. That language provides three important protections for drivers:
- Eastside must negotiate a “Labor Peace Agreement” with your Union within 60 days.
- Eastside must keep all drivers currently working at the airport for 180 days.
- The Port must review drivers’ income every six months and can reopen the contract if they find drivers aren’t making a living wage.
If you see that Eastside or the Port is not upholding these protections, we need to be ready to take action.
To prepare for the upcoming negotiations with Eastside, we will be holding meetings to discuss your priorities. It is important that we have good attendance at those meetings so that your collective voice is heard. We will let you know as soon as the meetings are scheduled.
We will continue to fight to make sure that all taxicab operators are able to earn a living wage. Please let me know if Eastside violates the terms of their contract with the Port.
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.
The legal battle over your rights as taxicab operators to collectively bargain continues to unfold.
As you recall, the US Chamber of Commerce is trying to stop the new law that gives drivers the right to bargain with their dispatch companies over their wages, hours and working conditions.
In March, the Chamber filed a lawsuit with the City of Seattle saying that dispatch companies would be damaged by the new law.Read more
Taxicab operators who are part of the WWTCOA are working with Yellow Cab to improve its dispatch system.
The current system is flawed and needs to be modernized. Many drivers have reported trouble accessing the system and customers complain regularly.
Please take our taxi dispatch survey. Your feedback will help create a dispatch system that works for all of us!
CBC News from Edmonton is reporting that Tappcar, a new ride-hailing service based in Canada, is encouraging the Teamsters to organize its drivers.
"We believe that having a unionized workforce will make our workers happy," a company spokesperson said.
Read more below:Read more
Great news! For the first time since 1990, the City of Seattle is awarding 35 new licenses for members of the Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association.
The medallions will go to drivers whose applications were drawn during the lottery conducted on November 4, 2015 in Magnusun Park.
This is a huge victory for the WWTCOA! We negotiated an agreement with the City that included the issuance of these new licenses. And they are coming now - just in time for the holidays!
Last Friday, Seattle taxi drivers took another huge step towards winning dignity and a voice at work!
Your calls, emails, meetings, and outstanding showing of support helped to secure a unanimous 7-0 vote at Seattle City Council’s meeting of the Finance and Culture Committee.
The passage of this legislation is being followed nationally and has already made news locally.Read more
Dawn Gearhart was recognized at the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) convention in SeaTac today with the 2015 Elsie Schrader Award for the advancement of women in leadership roles and activism on behalf of women within the labor movement.
Over the last three years, Gearhart has demonstrated outstanding leadership in her work organizing and representing Seattle-area taxicab operators and members of the Western Washington Taxicab Operators' Association.
Last year, she helped successfully negotiate an agreement with the City of Seattle that created more taxi stands, more taxi licenses, a fund to offset higher operating costs for wheelchair accessible cabs, and medallions as a property right for taxi owners.Read more