While doing my "turn" yesterday I encountered a long-time taxi colleague who made mention that drivers were upset with me. This all stems from my "yes" vote for the increase during a taxi advisory commission special session. Given both the animosity and anger associated with that action it appears that I must add even more clarification upon what appears to be a very confusing subject. My one request relates to any lease-drivers or single owners reading this is to refer all and anyone interesting in the L&I issue and the meter increase to this particular posting and to the many others addressing this subject and topic.
To all those who don't know, the proposed meter increase is all about Labor & Industry's goal of having all lease-drivers (independent contractors) seen as what they describe as "covered workers" hence a kind of employee which means that they (you and me) should be covered and insured beneath the L&I coverage "umbrella." Got that? This is extremely important to note, because this is the SOLE reason why a meter increase is being proposed, the increase part of a mandated imposition of L&I coverage stemming from the passage of HB 1367. If you don't know what L&I insurance overage is please read on as I about to tell you.
As far as I know, all states within the Republics' grand total of 50 all have some version of Labor& Industry insurance providing protection for all workers or employees actively engaged at their version of a workplace. The theory is that the logger who has a limb bonk him upon the head or the hospital nurse slipping upon an urine covered floor will receive prorated wages and any and all cost that is related to the injury which could include medical and rehabilitation and other types of fees. Before this kind of work site protection existed, an injured or killed worker received nothing whatsoever in compensation. L&I insurance is designed to protect the worker and his/her family. Sounds like a good program, doesn't it?
Currently in our local industry lease drivers are considered to be independent contractors responsible for all their costs in the same way any business owner would be. This is key to note because we appear to have a problem of definition when applied to the various government entitles. The City of Seattle requires us to have business licenses and report our wages as independent business owners. L&I is saying that despite that, we are actually some version of employee. The problem in part stems from the reality that nearly none of the 3000 plus lease drivers (including myself) have created their own L&I account as any wise business owner would. As I pointed out in my Friday meeting in Olympia, not once have I been contacted by L&I to suggest setting up my own account. Certainly no one suggested that when I obtained my first taxi for-hire license back in 1987. In part that makes the current L&I demands so curious. If they are so interested in us being covered, why haven't they done the obvious beginning at least 25 years ago? They don't appear to have a legitimate response to that glaring ommission. Instead they say it is all the associations and companies fault, which is where we are now. Over the past few years, huge monetary assessments have been placed against taxi associations large and small. L&I has become the classroom bully, change your policies or I will bloody your nose. L&I has big bureaucratic fists. They can really beat you up.
HB 1367 for better or probably worse, was an industry response to this threat. Without consulting the lease-drivers, the state-wide industry led by Seattle & King County taxi associations wrote the bill and had it passed. The cost was compromised to the cost per car as opposed to per individual. The bill states that the cost will be shared between owner and driver. This is where the meter rates and the subsequent lease rates increases come in. Yes, if all this goes through, you the lease driver will be paying a higher daily rate. Did you know that? And do you want L&I insurance protection? Starting from day one of this year 2012 you have been covered by L&I. Did you know that and do you want L&I protection to continue? These are vital questions, which brings me to my own position both as a driver and taxi advisory commission member. Just what is my position? Here it is.
I am opposed to Washington State government imposing their will upon the workers of the local and statewide taxi industry. If a given company or association has a traditional employer/employer relationship then by all means there should be mandatory L&I coverage. Beyond that, no, the State of Washington should not be mandating that independent business operators have to have L&I coverage. If we are stupid and don't understand the need for this kind of protection, then it is our own fault and responsibility. Along with that, if we all injured on the job, then we CAN NOT apply for L&I insurance that we have not signed up for. This is key because injured drivers and the hospitals serving them have applied for L&I benefits when they were not applicable. You can not sign up after the fact. And I blame L&I for having paid those erroneous claims. No one forced them to pay the claims. L&I did it voluntarily. How is that OUR responsibility? I don't understand that position.
My position is simple. HB 1367 should be repealed and dissolved. All audits should be cancelled. In turn statewide all industry workers should be notified that it is in their best self-interest to sign up and pay for their own L&I insurance. L&I should make it clear that they will not pay for claims for anyone not signed up with them. Plain and simple. End of the story. That is what I want to see happen and urge you to support. And now back to the meter rates.
I voted yes because it was the RESPONSIBLE position to take. I personally do not support the meter increases and the related lease increases. As I told the council aide yesterday, over a five-weekend month, I have to make $2000. before I make a single dime. That is a lease of $200. per weekend plus the average cost of $200. worth of gasoline. Do the math and you find it to be 2000 dollars. I nor you need added costs. Nor does our customer base need the added burden but please PLACE the blame upon the proper shoulders. Labor & Industry has pushed us to this point. You need to tell them two things. That you want them to stop labeling you an employee. And that you want them to send you all the information around creating your own individual L&I account. Do that and you will have personally assisted toward a much needed resolution. In other words, quit shouting and pointing fingers. Instead, take personal responsibility for your own lives and business and family. Do that and you will have done something great. Make yourself proud and take care of yourself. No one else will. You are one in charge of your life. Do it and be happy. I will be taking my own advise. I am with you on that point. We drivers suffer enough as it it. Boring, isn't it?