Drivers from New Haven’s largest taxi company have raised the possibility of a work stoppage if the management of Metro Taxi does not respond to their complaints about the costs of leasing and driving a cab in the city.
The 20 cab drivers who attended a meeting Tuesday evening said Metro Taxi drivers often have to work five- or six-day weeks to cover their weekly lease fees, which they must pay for the use of a company-owned car. They said they are also frustrated with the owner’s policy of charging drivers for traveling to pick up a passenger who decides not to use the taxi.
Driver Antoine Scott, who organized the meeting, said drivers are committed to trying every means possible to resolve their problems with management before they stage a work stoppage.
“We are stuck, because we are independent contractors,” Scott said. “We are not employees, so the state’s labor board cannot help. But before we do a work stoppage we are going to exhaust all methods. We’re not just going to leave the public out in the cold.”
Metro Taxi owner William Scalzi was unavailable for comment Tuesday evening.
Paul Wessel, director of New Haven’s Department of Traffic and Parking, said he was unaware of the drivers’ complaints, and though taxi companies are regulated by the state, he said the city will try to foster communication between drivers and management.
“I’ve been running Traffic and Parking for three years, and I’ve heard next to nothing about taxi issues,” Wessel said. “If people came to us, we would listen, and we would try to figure out what we could do to be helpful.”
Wessel said he hopes Metro Taxi drivers will not choose to join in a work stoppage that would inconvenience many of those who rely on taxi service in the city. Metro Taxi employs 109 drivers in New Haven, Scott said.
A driver who identified himself as Mark said drivers must pay $740 in leasing fees a week, a $50 late fee if the lease is not paid in full on Monday, and $30 to $40 per day for gas. Drivers such as himself, he said, often have to work seven-day weeks to make any profit.
“They are working us like donkeys,” he said. “It’s not healthy. There are a lot of people who have no time to spend with their families because if you take a day off, it’s on you.”
Another driver who declined to give his name said Metro Taxi is also unfairly allocating among drivers the rights to longer, more profitable trips, such as trips to Danbury, Conn. or New York City. Such favoritism was a common complaint among drivers at yesterday’s meeting, many of whom said that though all drivers pay the same lease fees, some drivers earn substantially more money than others.
At the meeting, the drivers chose four representatives to seek a meeting with Scalzi and present him with their complaints. Scott said he will contact Scalzi soon about a meeting and will try to decide by the end of February whether or not to pursue a work stoppage.
Drivers from Metro Taxi last staged protests about working conditions in the spring of 2000, when they said rising gas prices had made it difficult for them to make a profit. Attempts to unionize at that time proved unsuccessful.
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