Drivers for Metro Taxi, the largest, full-service taxi company in Connecticut, plan to mount a demonstration today, which is set to affect travel across Connecticut.
The protest, which is set to include nearly half of Metro Taxi’s workforce, will take place outside of the company’s West Haven headquarters, said Solomon Sam, a driver who helped organize the protest. The drivers, who are independent contractors, not employees of the company, plan to protest restrictions including specific times to work, exorbitant late fees on lease payments, and penalties for damaged vehicles. During the protest, taxi service will be largely unavailable between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. as nearly 50 employees are expected to picket, said Antoine Scott, a former Metro Taxi driver who started QCONN Shuttle, a competing transport company.
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“They don’t want to cause a problem, they just want a fair day’s pay,” Scott said. “[Metro Taxi owner Bill Scalzi] wants to keep the American dream to himself.”
Scalzi declined to comment on the protest Sunday afternoon.
The drivers will start Monday’s demonstration outside of the Yale Bowl and drive single-file to the Metro Taxi headquarters, Sam said. When they arrive, he added, the demonstrators will stand outside of the building until Scalzi agrees to meet with four representatives (including Sam) and discuss their grievances.
If Scalzi ignores their demands, Scott said, the drivers may decide to withhold all lease payments, which amount to $750 per week in revenue for the company. This will substantially damage Metro Taxi’s profits as the majority of profits come from these payments, he added.
If Scalzi decides to reclaim his vehicles, a large portion of the company’s fleet will be left without drivers to escort passengers across the state.
Scott added that many of the drivers who are upset with Metro Taxi’s policies have recently immigrated to the United States.
Sam and other leaders met in Scott’s office Sunday afternoon to draft a list of grievances and prepare for the demonstration. Scott said the meeting drew about 35 drivers and that his goal is to draw half of the company’s 92-person workforce.
The drivers’ grievances focus on Scalzi unfairly manipulating contracts, Scott said.
Although the contractors technically pay for insurance, he said, they are still forced to pay for their own vehicles if it breaks down or is damaged.
“They keep charging you [for the taxi while it’s damaged] and that’s not right,” Sam said. “Why should you be charged if you are not working? You are losing at both ends.”
Although state law only allows an independent contractor to work for up to 12 hours per shift, Scott said that the company’s fees are so high that many Metro Taxi drivers will work up to 16 hours so that they are able to make a reasonable profit.
Seven of 15 students interviewed said that a strike would negatively affect them.
“I would be upset [with a strike,]” Navy Encinias ’14 said. “It would make me think more about using other taxi services.”
Sam said that the contract system was the most unjust aspect of Metro Taxi, but Scott disagreed: He said that Scalzi is creating a monopoly by preventing other cab companies from entering the market and at the same time expanding his own.
When a person wants to start a new cab company, they have to petition the state, Scott said. At these hearings, he said, Metro Taxi sends representatives that convince state officials that the New Haven cab market is already oversaturated. Metro Taxi, in conjunction with Hartford’s Yellow Cab Company, is currently applying for 139 new handicap-accessible cars.
Gerald Walthall, the owner of Heritage Taxi, called the Metro Taxi contracts “indentured servitude,” and told the News last week that the public hearings on new taxi licenses show that the system is run by “people who don’t want to see ambitious hardworking individuals succeed.”
Metro Taxi began in 1987 when it purchased 109 permits from a failing taxi company.
Anjali Balakrishna, Maddie McMahon and Sharon Yin contributed reporting.