Two events last week, the bombing and killing of unarmed civilians in Yemen by the Saudi Arabian air force; and the capsizing of boats filled with Rohingya refugees fleeing ethic violence in Myanmar (Burma), drowning at least 46 mostly women and children, got me to thinking about the disenfranchised, the poor, the disadvantaged and simply, the more forgotten residents of this planet. A New York Times photograph displayed bodies lined along a river shore in Bangladesh, the country where the drowning victims were seeking sanctuary. And the New York Times photographs originating from Yemen were taken by a reporter who snuck into the country because neither Saudi Arabia nor its prime supporter, the United States, wants anyone to see the destruction first hand. While this is awful, unfortunately, it is nothing new, not in this century, the 20th century or any other period in recorded history.
What is theoretically different now from say atrocities from the past, like the Belgium killings in West Africa during the late 19th Century of 2-15 million Congolese, or the Ottoman (Turkey) Empire massacre of over 1 million Armenians, is the now popular and modern (and collective) pretense of caring, where diplomats appointed to the United Nations sit and argue while murder and famine persists in plain view. As during the murder and maybe in Rwanda during their 1994 genocide, everyone, including the Clinton Administration, just sat there upon their hands and stared at the ongoing carnage.
I am guessing that many readers, while potentially aware of the killing of 8000 man and boys in July 1995 in Srebrencia during the Bosnian War, probably don't know that they were handed over to the Serbs by United Nation Dutch peacekeepers. Such is how it was then and in the past, remaining to this day and moment. If you are on the cultural sidelines, like the Pequot Indians in New England in 1636, or the European Jews in 1933 or the Bosnian Muslims in 1995, good luck because you are going to need it, hatred equalling genocide guaranteeing your fate.
How this pattern of disregard relates to cabbies and the taxi industry is readily apparent to anyone driving beneath the top-light: we are subjected to "last class" treatment; and what is currently happening at Sea-Tac amidst recent labor strife underlines that no one, especially those in power, like for example the governing members of the Port of Seattle commission, care little to nothing about the well-being of current taxi independent operators. Not only have they been unaware of the trouble they have caused, I will take a Loyd's of London wager they will do nothing to change the situation.
More upon that later but even those of us operating in the City of Seattle and King County know full well just how much we are beneath the uncaring (and spiteful?) bureaucratic thumb, the most telling example being the unleashing of over 15 thousand Uber and Lyft drivers, saturating the market and strangling the local taxi industry. Too obvious, then, that you don't do something like this to a business community you care about and support, the City Council's message to us abundantly clear: you are not important, and even more, we want you to know and understand, minus any doubt, exactly how we feel---you are completely expendable! Go away!
But as I said in the beginning, this is how the poor, or more politely, how the misconceived have been treated, in this country and around the world. If you think I am mistaken, consider the history of the Federal Minimum Wage in the USA and get back to me. And if you hadn't heard, the legislators in Missouri (The Show-Me State) forced the City of Saint Louis to rescind it's minimum wage law offering Saint Louis residents $10.00 per hour, making the city adhere to the Missouri state minimum of $7.70 per hour. While pathetic, that is more than the current Federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Do you think you can live on that hourly wage? I know I can't, no doubt about it.
In 1938, the FDR administration mandated, for the first time, a Federal Minimum Wage of 25 cents per hour. If that doesn't sound like much, understand that the cost of living was much lower during the Great Depression. A loaf of bread cost you 9 cents, with a pound of ground beef only 13 cents. Average rent across the country was $27.00 monthly, with the cost of a new house averaging between 2-4 thousand dollars. The sticker price for your new Ford or Chevy or Dodge would be about $765.00. And how much was the gasoline in 1938 to power that car down the road? A mere 10 cents per gallon. Compare those prices with today's and you can see how, nearly 80 years later, a Federal minimum wage of $7.25 is not only wholly inadequate, it's immoral.
If you still are not convinced, thinking that $7.25 is okay, then let us do the math together, rounding out the figures and dividing $7.00 into 80 years, which comes out to a wage increase of about 88 cents per decade, meaning that every ten years the average American worker will not be meeting the usual rate of inflation in terms of their yearly income.
In Seattle, average rent now ranges between $1500-3000.00. If you want to buy a house, you will have to fork out between $500,000 and $1,000,000. You think you can do this upon $7.25 per hour? Even with Seattle's mandated $15.00 per hour (at a current $13.00 per hour), you will still have a difficult time affording much of anything. Instead, like me, you will have moved to Tacoma but Tacoma too is now beginning to match Seattle, day to day rents and food getting more expensive by the inflationary hour.
One last point about patterns concerning the "thrown away" sectors of a given culture, society and country, is an article in yesterday's New York Times featuring the French city of Marseille and how children from the Arab-majority neighborhoods fail to learn how to swim, something, along with reading and writing the French government back in the 1970s mandated as a human right. One young man's story is featured, detailing his struggle to become a competitive swimmer as his area pools are shut down and never reopened.
Again, to this day, obstacles, monetary and others, are constructed to keep those on the outside looking in, assuring that those who fall into what can only be called undesirable categories remain there. Another prime example is how the Roma (Gypsies) are still treated in Europe, Europe of course the perceived bastion of Everything Great that is Western Culture. It was, and remains a bad story, the Roma too included amongst Hitler's Holocaust victims.
My 30th Taxi Year Anniversary
This September makes it thirty off-and on years for me in this crazy taxi business. I had quit in the Spring of 1991, thinking I was done, never to return but prolonged illness and other life circumstances forced my return. While appreciative of the good living taxi has provided, as said before, I am ready to say goodbye to the insanity I know too well called driving a cab.
Trouble at Sea-Tac
An article by Heidi Groover in the Stranger's August 30th edition entitled "Screwed at Sea-Tac" continued an examination of Port of Seattle policy begun by the Seattle Weekly's Sara Bernard. This time the focus is upon Eastside Flat-rate For Hire (ESFH), the group that won the current Sea-Tac outbound service contract and how it impacts their single-owner taxi partners, collectively known as E-Cab. The E-Cab lament is that they are barely making a living while operating under the current conditions; and taking information from available anecdotal evidence, it appears to be more-or-less true.
Sunday evening, an E-Cab owner told me he was facing financial difficulties due to ESFH scheduling protocols, providing him alternating weeks of 4 days and 5 Sea-Tac days on, leaving working gaps of 2 to 3 days where he is banned from working the airport. He said if he could just work a full 7 day week he would be fine but since ESFH demands that everyone pays the required $495.00 regardless of allowed Sea-Tac days or functional dispatch, he is facing a real dilemma trying to maintain a living.
Given I know everyone at ESFH, I believe I know how they could operate better or more fairly but despite Teamsters Local 117's insistence that Eastside is solely responsible, I instead point to the Port of Seattle and its questionable reliance upon independent taxi and flat-rate operators to fund Sea-Tac operations, requiring that each ride originating from the airport cost the drivers $7.00 for the privilege. As I have stated in a past posting, my per-ride cost is about one dollar, far less than what Sea-Tac asks. To me, Sea-Tac is totally unjustified in demanding such an enormous fee. You also might notice that it nears the Federal minimum hourly wage. That is to me a pretty amazing comparison. How could anyone think this is reasonable?
And the solution to all this turmoil and angst? It is clear that circumstances necessitate that the Port of Seattle's Board of Commissioner's revisit their rate structure and recalibrate what they are making drivers pay. Currently, the fee is scheduled to go up, not down. Any increase, along with the current fee rate, is not sustainable. Nor in my opinion is it moral. As a fellow cabbie, I know how hard everyone is working. And need I say that Sea-Tac's decision to accommodate Uber and Lyft operations only deepens the issue, making it even harder upon the cabbies. Give everyone a break, won't ya? Wouldn't that be nice!