Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Coming to a Conclusion

Even though, as I have reported, that I played a role in getting Washington Labor & Industry to halve the requested amount the industry was expecting, I have remained uncomfortable and dissatisfied with the outcome.  Like a toothache, in a sense it has kept me awake pondering just what is the source of my intermittent pain.  Nagging at me like an unhappy wife, something I have also experienced.  Nobody likes being screamed at, and here I have found that I was shouting at myself. But why, didn't we just win a major victory?  And my reluctant assessment is that if we have won anything, it is slight, and potentially fleeting.  I don't sense any permanency.  All I really feel is a strong morbidity and dread.  I'll explain.

The Labor & Industry decision was based on what I see as an erroneous premise, the concept that somehow, someway that we, the lease-drivers that comprise the majority of the local and statewide taxi community, are, and have been maltreated employees, even if we ourselves were unaware of this shared malevolent reality.  In a very real manner, L&I was being parental and benevolent to Labor's wayward children.  It appears that the good folks at L&I felt we were trapped in an untenable situation, meaning we were not covered by any kind of labor injury insurance, and by golly they were going to come to our rescue.  The major problem though is that it wasn't our perception of our own situation.  Yes, life could always be better but the majority of us have been earning a very good living for years. We complain yet move forward.  Babies are born, children are raised, and teenagers are sent off to college.  Yes, taxi driving is hard work yet it is good and honest labor, and we are a proud bunch, we understand our daily achievements.  Enslaved or indentured servants we are not!  This is why I feel so dissatisfied with the Labor & Industry decision.  They misread our situation.  In short they got it wrong. And since they have, we and our passenger-base will be paying the price for years to come.

As the new year approaches, the City of Seattle's Department of Consumer Affairs is calculating just how much to raise the taxi meter rate and to what percentage will the lease cap be raised.  All this is based upon the  L&I opinion that the lease driver is some new version of taxi association or company employee though they know that all of us are required to yearly purchase business licenses and and pay city taxes on our income if it exceeds $50,000.  That the fact that legally we are regarded, and personally view ourselves, as independent business owners and operators did not dissuade Labor & Industry from their grand salvation toward the great unwashed.  And by going forward, their actions have been extremely consequential.

Not only are the lease-drivers being impacted but the "bad" associations and taxi companies have been audited throughout the state, some to the tune of nearly a million dollars.  Some small companies have gone under and folded.  Others are for sell.  And why?  Simply because Labor & Industry has greatly misinterpreted what the taxi industry is doing, and have decided, like some Holy Emancipator to open the Gates of Bondage and set us all free.  I might be slightly exaggerating but that is what it feels and looks like. Regardless though, L&I has upended the taxi world, which is now balancing upon its sore head.  Where we fall, and how hard, is anyone's guess.

Now getting back to the City of Seattle's response, we have now entered the realm of the nonsensical.  As I have just written, all of us lease-drivers have to have a City of Seattle business license.  While fully aware of that, Seattle is planing on forwarding on the costs because the State of Washington has designated us as taxi employees.  Somewhere here, the twain doesn't meet, and I am not referring to Kipling or the directions of East & West.  Somehow the taxi industry has become a Doctor Doolittle character, a "Pushme-Pullyou", a creature with two heads simultaneously tugging toward opposite poles. In more plainer words, none of this makes sense, which is why I can't keep pretending that it does.  If L&I wants the lease-drivers to be covered, why haven't they approached us?  Since we are responsible for everything else, why are we somehow exempt from paying for our own Labor & Industry insurance?  I don't understand it.  And I don't understand why the taxi associations and companies are being held liable for something that is not their responsibility.  I for one would be the first to say that the taxi industry could be doing a much better job.  But in this case I find them to be innocent.  They have not committed the crime for which they have been charged.  And why the lease-drivers and the taxi passenger public also have to pay for this imaginary offense I can't begin to accept or understand.  My verdict is that Labor & Industry is guilty of a gigantic overreach.

So write the governor!  Write to the Seattle mayor!   Write to the King County administrator!  And write to the various members of the Seattle City Council.  And to the County Council.  Do not sit idly by.   Attend the council hearing, whenever they might be scheduled.  Be proud and stand up for your rights!

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