Teamster Taxi Association Demands End to Unjust Penalties
(WASHINGTON) – The Teamster-affiliated Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the city’s more than 6,000 cab drivers, demanding that the District stop towing and impounding taxis and issuing fines to drivers who have been unable to install new dome lights or credit card machines.
The complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction were filed late Tuesday in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. They seek a delay until the District can assure that the credit card system is reliably functional and that a sufficient supply of dome lights is available. The lawsuit also seeks damages for those drivers who have been fined or had their vehicles impounded. View that complaint here. Because the drivers own or lease their vehicles, the economic impact has been severe.
“The drivers are facing delays in getting the dome lights and the costs are soaring, but the city’s answer has been to tow and impound taxis, which is shattering families throughout the region by taking away their vehicles without due process,” said Ferline Buie, President of Teamsters Local 922 in Washington. “We have demanded a meeting with Mayor Gray and demanded a moratorium on towing and fines, but the mayor has not acted. As a result, because of this economic emergency, we are seeking relief in the courts.”
Affiliated with Teamsters Local 922, the Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association is a new powerful, united voice for cab drivers in Washington who are independent owner- and lease-operators. The association held its first meeting last week with a standing-room-only crowd of drivers.
According to the lawsuit, dome light installers have required the drivers named in the suit to join waitlists of indefinite lengths. The installers have also been unable to state how many days or weeks after the Nov. 1 deadline that dome lights would be available for installation.
Driver Girma Tessema tried but could not get an appointment to have the dome light installed by the deadline. As a result, Tessema’s taxi was impounded on Nov. 1 and he has lost the use of his taxi until an installer can give him an appointment.
“Plaintiff Tessema does not know when he will receive an appointment and must simply wait by the phone,” the suit said. Five other driver plaintiffs “have all been forced to forfeit the use of their taxicabs until they can obtain a dome light at an indefinite date because of the risk of imminent impoundment,” the suit said.
Another driver, Manny Zewdu, made about 10 visits in October to five authorized dome light retailers, but was consistently told the lights were out of stock. Even after spending six hours searching for a dome light, he was unable to locate one by the deadline.
The credit card machines (referred to as Modern Taximeter System, or MTS), are plagued with poor cellular reception quality and frequent log-in problems, including failing to timely start when a passenger first gets into the vehicle. Due to the problems, drivers have been forced to refuse passengers who cannot pay cash or lose money on fares when reception quality causes the meter to fail to record mileages.
Bililigne Senbet, a D.C. taxi driver for more than 40 years who drives for Sun Cab, had his taxi towed and impounded on Nov. 4 outside Union Station.
“My taxi was taken without due process,” Senbet said. “The taxi was inspected a month ago. It’s not a safety issue. What the city is doing is wrong. This is a violation of our rights, confiscating our personal property.” Senbet was fined $100, plus he faces additional towing and impound fees.
On Monday, more than 150 drivers met in Freedom Plaza and marched across the street to the Wilson Building to deliver a letter to Mayor Vincent Gray outlining their concerns and anger over the towing of taxis and fines.
In the letter, the taxi association seeks the following:
• An immediate halt to driver fines and taxicab impoundment over the new regulations until a fair resolution is reached between the city and the taxi drivers.
• A subsidy or reimbursement to compensate the taxi operators for the unfair unilaterally imposed costs associated with the new regulations.
• The appointment of a driver recommended by the Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association to the current vacancy on the D.C. Taxi Commission.
Drivers will make their voices heard at the next meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 441 4th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.
For more information, visit www.dctaxidrivers.com and www.teamster.org/dctaxi. Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and “Like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.