Ending Airport Front of The Line

VICTORY FOR AIRPORT DRIVERS: Drivers Successfully Rally to End Front of the Line Privileges

By United Taxi Workers of San Diego

In an effort to bring more hybrid vehicles into the fleet the San Diego Regional Airport Authority (AA) partnered with Mossy Toyota and the California Center of Sustainable energy to offer owners incentives to buy hybrid cars, one of which was that all hybrid vehicles be allowed to cut the line in front of all other non-hybrid drivers. The airport is mandated to have 100% of their fleet be hybrid cars by 2017 but was not planning on mandating the purchase of the hybrid vehicles themselves.

Taxi drivers already face a very difficult economic situation given the current state of our regional economy. If the 45 to 66 hybrid cabs were allowed to cut to the front of the line at the best times of the day, it would result in United Taxi Workers of San Diego (UTWSD) members and other airport drivers seeing a very significant reduction in their fares and therefore their livelihood.

Regardless of this the AA staff devised an incentive program to reach that goal incrementally without input from drivers.  After a few days of drivers experiencing extreme losses in fairs to the hybrid vehicles airport drivers went on a temporary strike that ended in the privileges being temporarily halted.

As a result, the AA reps called for a meeting.  On Jan 6th, 200 drivers signed and delivered a petition asking the AA to stop this policy altogether by offering non-hybrid owners and drivers some kind counter-measure.  The Airport staff “promised” that their proposal for a replacement incentive would be presented to the Board on Feb. 9th stopping front of the line privileges indefinitely.  Three weeks later AA staff gave 24 hour notice of a last minute meeting on February 3rd where the AA staff did a complete turn around and announced to the drivers that their proposal was not only rejected but was not going to be presented or considered as an alternative.

The AA staff when asked confirmed that the airport drivers interests, who don’t drive hybrid cars, were not relevant or considered in formulating their proposal to the Airport Authority Board and that not only would hybrid drivers get to cut to the front of the line once a day but also that the incentive would be extended 6 more months to make up for suspension period.

On February 9th drivers, owners and worker advocates came out to tell the Airport Board where they stood on the anti-worker front of the line privileges. UTWSD representatives including newly elected Taxicab Advisory Board member Hussein Nuur, Organizer Sarah Saez, President Mikaiil Hussein and other UTWSD drivers stood up to talk about the need for drivers voices to be heard especially regarding recommendations that the lease drivers strongly reject.  “It’s not fair to punish the leased drivers for something they can’t control.  We ask this board that the front of the line privileges not be allowed at all because of drivers lack of control over what cars they lease from permit holders”, said Mikaiil Hussein.  Mikaiil who helped found the United Taxi workers in 2009 went on to ensure the board that the United Taxi Workers would continue their mission of enhancing the taxi industry for the better.  “We need to be treated as industry partners and we look forward to being recognized as such in future airport meetings.”

Peter Zschiesche of the Employee Rights Center who has partnered with the United Taxi Workers since 2010 went on to speak on the fact that these incentives not only take away drivers money but also the resulting psychological effects of front of the line privileges.  Mr. Zschiesche asked the board to imagine they were waiting in a long line in the grocery store or a restaurant and someone came and cut them in line and the sense of unfairness this would make them feel. “I know that every one of you if you experienced that your first gut reaction would be, why does that person get to go to the front of the line and me and my family have to wait? So the psychology of this is not good. And I think all of you if you honestly admitted it you know the psychology of granting some people to go to the front of the line for things people don’t even have control over doesn’t work to well. I’m going to ask you to redesign your incentive program and if you’re going to give away someone’s money, give away your own money, give away the trip fees, whatever it is you got in your pocket but when you take away somebody else’s opportunity to make a living by getting a fare at the airport I think that’s patently unfair”

San Diego Labor Council CEO, Lorena Gonzalez was also in attendance to advocate on behalf of airport taxi drivers and all drivers who because of their independent contractor status are unable to join unions or collectively bargain.  Regardless of union status Lorena said, “workers none the less deserve the right to make a living for their families and deserve the right to be treated equally and under this incentive program, as well intentioned as it might be, you’re putting a hug barrier between those drivers who at this time because of availability and cost do not have their own medallion.”

After multiple speakers the board then weighed in on the front of the line privileges.  While board members Jim Panknin and Paul Robinson were in favor of continuing the front of the line privileges a majority of the board members were not.  Boardmember Tom Smisek was met with a round of applause after saying, “Listening to the testimony today I’m convinced that we should not have front of the line privileges.” His reasoning was that as a board they rely on their staff and the collaboration all those involved to come up an incentive that is most fare.  In this case he did not feel that was accomplished and that drivers should not be paying the price for this incentive.  Mr. Smisek was not alone.  Boardmember Hubbs and others agreed that the incentive should be monetized and the cost should not be passed onto the drivers. Board member Tony Young also made it a point to ask how a front of the line privilege would incentivize owners to buy when they receive a flat lease fee regardless of how much the drivers make.  This was supported by Boardmember Cox who said he does not believe the front of the line privileges played a large roll in the incentive to buy the hybrid vehicle in the first place.

And in a huge victory for taxi drivers the board voted to not reinstate the front of the line privileges. Thank you to the board members who voted in support of this initiative and all the drivers and advocates who came out in support.