Taxi drivers protest

For the first time since Metro Taxi’s 1987 founding, drivers and administrators met Monday to discuss complaints about the company and its policies.

Fifty-two cab drivers for Metro Taxi, Connecticut’s largest taxi provider, assembled outside the company’s headquarters Monday morning, demanding a meeting with company President and CEO Bill Scalzi. Complaints focused on high lease payments and strict rules about vehicle damages. The meeting had mixed reviews from the drivers — some said progress is on its way, while others said Scalzi did not fully cooperate. What most drivers and their boss could agree on, though, was the need for better communication between the administrators and the drivers.

“They left with a better understanding of the way things work in the company,” Scalzi said, “and the company left with a better understanding of how to make a few changes.”

Despite the newly cultivated communication, Scalzi said the meeting was mostly centered around company policy that could not ever be changed such as lease fees that had been in place since the company’s founding.

Scalzi, and several drivers interviewed, said lease payments complaints were the primary topic of the meeting. Because Metro Taxi drivers are not employed by the company, but rather hired as independent contractors, they are required to pay for any damages the vehicles may sustain. Many drivers said that they did not understand the specifics of this system until Monday’s meeting.

“The biggest issue is that there was no communication, and a lot of things are getting done, but we don’t really know why,” said a 10-year metro taxi employee who wished to remain anonymous citing concerns of retribution.

Hudgens said Scalzi told them in the meeting that as contractors, they must assume some risk. If the company took away the risk, then the drivers would become employees of the company, Scalzi added.

Although this statement by Scalzi opened up communication with the drivers, it did not necessarily change group sentiment about damage fees and penalties, said the driver.

“We don’t know why we’re getting charged, and he explained why, but a lot of drivers are still not happy with that,” he said.

While several drivers said these complaints have built up over time, Scalzi attributes the demonstration largely to the difficult winter season. Drivers have been getting less work, he said, and as a result have suffered financial losses.

But some attendees had a different take on the sudden decision to speak out.

“A lot of the guys used to be scared of putting their names out there, but they’ve been inspired by Egypt,” said Scott, “These guys now have the fire inside their hearts.”

This “fire,” though, did not come out of a want to fight with the company for some drivers. According to one driver, who has been with the company for four years and who wished to remain anonymous, many contractors with Metro Taxi think it is a good company or else they would not be working for them.

But instead of working Monday morning, 52 drivers decided to protest.

The drivers assembled by the Yale Bowl in 39 cars and made their way to the Metro Taxi headquarters in West Haven, said Antoine Scott, a former driver with Metro Taxi who participated in the demonstration.

When the drivers’ procession from the Yale Bowl arrived at the company’s West Haven offices, they told a manager that they needed to meet Scalzi. At this time, the demonstration leaders told this manager that if their demand for a meeting was not met, they would refuse to pay their weekly $750 lease payment, driver Johnny Hudgens said.

After assembling in the parking lot, he added, a West Haven police officer arrived on the scene and conveyed a message to the assembly from the company. According to Hudgens, the officer told them that if they did not pay their leases, Scalzi would report the cars as stolen, and they would all be forbidden from working for Metro Taxi again.

After several hours, Scalzi met with 32 of the remaining drivers to discuss their issues.

Scalzi said the management’s relationship with the drivers has improved since the meeting yesterday.

“We’ve had an incredible day here. We’ve had more conversations with our drivers today, they now know how to work the system, and the service level was so much better,” he said.

Metro Taxi has 161 vehicles in its fleet.

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