Thursday, February 28, 2013

Actions Hold (Have) Consequences

I went asleep and awoke with the third chapter of my last posting burdening my mind, having addressed pressing local taxi issues.  I was bothered that many who are involved  locally, including friends and close colleagues, might have misunderstood what I was saying.  Take this then as an effort toward clarification because in the next few months important issues like the City of Seattle sanctioned issuance of "for-hire" vehicle licenses, plus the various topics and issues connected to Labor & Industry insurance coverage will be demanding and shouting for resolution.  So far infighting, false insinuations, misdirected efforts and simple confusion have added up to animosity and impasse.  This all needs to cease as quickly as possible.  Something very basic would assist our community. And that is the recognition of a  simple truth: that all actions hold respondent consequences.  It's pretty basic but clearly to me many are ignoring this elemental fact.  I will again attempt to briefly outline recent history and actions with a goal of creating some useful coherence, something that all of us know to be in short supply.  We in the taxi industry love to jump and shout and swing and knock all about regardless of short and long-term consequences. I am suggesting that there are better methods toward lasting resolution.

Currently HB 1367 is being kicked around like a political  football, blamed for causing new and unwanted fiscal (and some say unwarranted) responsibilities.  The lead author of 1367 in particular is being strongly (and wrongly) castigated for his role in bringing what many call a plague upon us. How short memories are. So here are a few essential facts.

It is the State of Washington's Department of Labor & Industry, and no one else, who shoulders the blame and responsibility for the taxi industry's response to their  insistence that L&I coverage must be provided for all drivers.  Again, L&I pressured ( and you might say blackmailed) the industry into response by levying huge monetary audits.  The response, for better or worse, was HB 1367.  I must also remind you that the bill's author did not operate alone or in a vacuum.  Through out the entire process  he both communicated with, and was assisted by some of the same people who are now accusing him of whatever variety of malfeasance. During the negotiation process some legislators demanded that HB 1367 cover ALL parties including single owners or 1367 was dead in the water.  After consulting with ALL interested parties, that compromise was included.

And also along the garden path an important promise was broken.  A prominent L&I official, in front of many witnesses, promised more than once that all of the past audits would vanish and implementation  would begin with the initial year, in this case 2012.  This is the short and true history.  In August a number of us went down to Olympia to argue our case and thought we had made a breakthrough concerning the audits.  Though some very reasonable settlements were negotiated with the smaller fish, the bigger players were left out, which is where HB 1718 comes in.

HB 1718, which so far has remained held in sub-committee would achieve one VERY important goal.  It would, near as I understand it, eliminate all prior or pre-2012 L&I audits.  That 1718 encountered Labor opposition appears odd because it eliminates all PAST financial obligations relating to the audits.  Labor (the Teamsters) have asked how can this help the single owners?.  Simply by bringing up everything to the status quo, meaning  January 2012.  All of which translates into no new costs being  transferred step by step down the taxi food chain.  That these very same single owners now want their own personal L&I obligation eliminated is a separate issue.  Everyone instinctively panics watching operating costs increase month by month.  I know I do.  Inflation is not the independent contractor's friend.

But what if any are our options?  Granted, L&I coverage isn't cheap but it isn't that expensive, and if you have a serious accident you will be glad to have it. Shortsightedness is an endemic  taxi industry affliction.  That the union is encouraging a potentially suicidal choice is interesting.  If the single owners, and taking it a step further, the lease-drivers, do not have L&I coverage, then what will be in its place?  Nothing?  Is that it?  Just like before, nothing?  Is no coverage of any kind a good alternative?   I do not think so.

As much as I don't like paying an extra 160-200 per month as I am now personally doing, I recognize that I now have some protection where before I had none.  In these pages I rarely mention how often  I'm nearly killed over a typical weekend..  During my  last two weekends I twice avoided reckless drivers who appeared intent on killing me and my passengers. Serious near misses are unfortunately too commonplace.  I do have life insurance but that doesn't help me.  All the drivers need assistance after a serious accident.  That is why, for better and perhaps worse, L&I is the current answer.  That is why HB 1718 is so imperative because it keeps cost down.  What is wrong with that?

I am going to leave the "for-hire" issue for another moment because I can assure you that soon it could or will be the hottest topic of the day.  This is the best and worse examples of misguided actions and unintended consequences.  That like the the L&I situation, I know (and like) most of the major players involved.  Though motivated by the best of intentions, good people made some very bad decisions which will potentially resonate for years.  Like the BP oil spill, once the cap is blown, all hell breaks loose.  So in summation, your actions and decisions have consequences.  Please everyone, tread softly!  Taxi drivers have extremely sensitive toes.


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