Friday, April 5, 2013

Three Days: Three Meetings

Yes I have had a busy week of taxi politics, rushing around here and there, and of course the various telephone calls and emails.  There is a good reason why I am quitting all of this come June: it is a full time job and I can't afford to give my time to it.  It is that simple.  Somebody offer me some kind of position and pay me then I would consider sticking around for a maximum of two years.  Many are saying "you can't go" but course I can and will.  Again if I am that vital and irreplaceable it is time to transform all my volunteering into  a real and viable job.  And besides by devoting 8-10 hours five days a week in the service of the local taxi industry I would hopefully achieve much that is needed.  I can guarantee that I would be closely  monitoring government on the municipal and county and state levels.  Not again would anyone do the kind of damage which we trying to undo concerning the for-hire vehicle situation.  I would immediately jump on that kind of nonsense.  The decision to release that unfettered industry upon us was unconscionable.  Now how many unnecessary years will be given to this?  I hate to think!

Tuesday's Commission Meeting

The highlight was the appearance of current City Council President, Sally Clark.  Her 25 minute presentation which included a few minutes devoted to questions and answers was impressive.  She has done her taxi homework, clearly stating the various points and the not always obvious nuances concerning the taxi industry.  Her commission appearance was made in anticipation of Thursday's two part panel discussion involving primary figures from the taxi and for-hire and limousine (town car) industries  She more than anyone at the city council or in the mayor's office understands the complexities of for-hire issue (and limousine) and how it is impacting the taxi industry.  I wish her well and support her in this grand effort toward resolution.  My greatest hope is that all parties can ultimately avoid litigation.  That is why the taxi industry must keep talking while not backing down from our core positions.  We are the injured in of this.  We did not ask for this fight.  It was created for us by the City of Seattle and no one else.

The commission has had very real attendance issues.  Not only are members not attending, many clearly feel they don't have to officially notify us when they cannot make a meeting.  I had requested from Kenny Pittman, our mayoral liaison a record of commission attendance.  I am the only one receiving a gold star while my colleague Abebe from Yellow had one notified absence.  Again much of the blame lies not with the individuals but with the municipal and county officials who appointed them.  It is as if they were wearing blindfolds when the selections were made.   Regardless, just like the current for-hire folly, my industry is the one paying the cost.  This kind of repetition is boring, and I would think unnecessary. 

All this came to a head as one member has failed to show up for four consecutive meetings.  No notification, nothing at all coming from the individual.   After the third absence we hold the ability to vote on a recommendation of dismissal.  The person was notified last month that we need some kind of clarification. No response of any kind was received.  But you should have heard the uproar when I insisted we has to vote concerning our missing friend.  The vote was close but a recommendation for dismissal was sent forward.  Clearly the issue here is not personal.  It is only about professional conduct.  The real problem is that too many commission members are not taking their responsibility seriously.  Many would love to take their place.  I say, let them.  As we near our second year of existence I encourage everyone to embrace the opportunity given instead of throwing it away.  Again, the taxi community that is our constituency is depending upon us to speak for them.  Plain and simply it is our duty to not disappoint them.  What can be clearer?

Labor & Industry Appointment

On Wednesday I drove south to the state capital of Olympia for my much personally anticipated solo meeting with the new director of Labor & Industry, Joel Sacks and his deputy director of Field Services, Ernie LaPalm.  That I was pleased to to have this meeting cannot be understated.  I really appreciated these two busy individuals giving me a full 45 minutes out of their packed daily schedule.

I had come to further explain taxi reality on how it pertains to the independent contractor/business owner that is the Seattle & King county taxi driver.  During an ongoing L&I audit of Puget Sound Dispatch (PSD) I found out that a field auditor had requested six quarters (1 1/2 years) of driver trip sheets, something that neither PSD has nor is required by local government entities.  I brought a trip sheet along as exhibit one, showing Joel and Ernie how I fill it out when I make my turn at the cashier's window. "FOR PAYMENT ONLY" is what I printed on it, that being my only legal requirement.  Besides I told them, I or anyone else can literally put whatever unverifiable information we want on those sheets.  Requesting trip sheets is a exercise in futility.

I also told them that I wanted them to come down to Seattle and become taxi drivers.  After they were fully licensed we were all going to lease Yellow taxis and drive out together to my favorite Lincoln Park in West Seattle.  There we would park the taxis and walk around for a couple of hours enjoying ourselves.  After that we would stop and have lunch.  All of this to undeniably prove to themselves that they like me are independent operators, not the "covered workers" or the "quasi-employees" some at L&I have insisted we are.  No one would either call or contact us on our taxi computers wondering where we were or what we were doing.  You see, no one cares because it is our right to do whatever we want as long as we pay the lease.   No one would be directing their actions.  And Joel and Ernie, if they saw fit could repeat this pattern as long as they wanted.  As I told them this is Seattle taxi reality, and if you were Seattle taxi drivers, it would be a reality you shared.  They both cheerfully took in my mild tutorial.

We also talked about fairness and justice and other related topics.  They assured me that L&I was only interested in treating every company in an equal and fair manner.  Given recent settlements I believe they will have everyones' best interests in mind when final negotiations are concluded.  As the PSD audit is ending within days the verdict will soon be in.  I will fill everyone in as soon as I know.

The ride down finally allowed me to visit the Hungarian restaurant, the Paprika Cafe that is now in downtown Olympia.  It was good.  I will be back.  I hope no one has forgotten that I am Hungarian-American. "Sud!" is what my mother would have pronounced, her only swear word in any language.

City Council Panels

The panels were divided in two one hour sections, A & B.  This was intended to lend equal status to both but unfortunately, panel B, the one I attended had six speakers while panel A only had four.  What this did was effectively give panel A more time to state their case, about a full 8-10 minutes while panel B members had to cram everything in a scant 5 minutes.  Making panel B a bit of a travesty was the appointment of the infamous Bashi to our anointed membership.  Bashi is indeed a taxi character and self-promoter who somehow had convinced the council that he represented STITA taxi.  But during the one-minute public commentary period a STITA owner came up and said that Bashi DID NOT represent them.  That was humorous but it truly wasted everyone's time as Bashi was barely comprehensible.  Even though he was sitting 12 inches from me I couldn't figure out what he was saying other than he is proud to be an American and that his two children are Americans.

Other than our friend Bashi everyone did a good job presenting their cases.  In particular Abdul from CNG For-hire and Samatar from Eastside For-hire were impressively well-organized and eloquent and extremely convincing.  If  I didn't know the inside story I believe I would have begun weeping.  Seriously they stated their positions well.  They are serious businessman.  They aren't taking any crap from anyone.

I took the position that the blame fell clearly upon the City of Seattle's bureaucratic shoulders which has prompted all this infighting.  I said, which I have said before, that the for-hire industry was set up for all this, as the licenses were released in a less than thoughtful way.  Evidently folks liked what I said as afterwards both Sam and Abdul shook my hand, with Abdul announcing "Now that is the Joe I remember!"  I have tired to remain consistent but regardless I am glad we are all pals again if only for a few minutes. 

The public commentary forum was certainly colorful, with many "for-hire" speakers ranting and raving and literally having to be escorted from the podium by their fellows. One minute truly isn't enough time to fully vent a lifetime of frustration.  One council member actually commented that he was beginning to understand what the taxi drivers were talking about in relation to the for-hires.  I enjoyed that.

But there is an important bottom line here.  Despite all of their noble eloquence, not one of the for-hire panel representatives stated that they would now begin following the law, following the mandates by which the licenses were issued.  It is a telling omission.  While they are requesting legitimacy they will continue to steal my fares, our fares.  I just hope that the city council sees through this and stop condoning their blatant impunity.  The question remains is whether the City of Seattle will continue to allow the outlaws to overrun the taxi landscape.  I tell everyone this.  If the for-hires are out in force again this weekend stealing our fares I will be howling. And I am not going to shut up!  I can promise everyone that!