Almost 100 taxi drivers crowded into the office of the Arlington County Board Friday morning, demanding a meeting with Board Chairman Walter Tejada to protest working conditions in Arlington.
The crowd of drivers were many of the same who protested in Clarendon last month against the same issue: the ordinance that regulates taxi operating permits, which the protesting drivers feel is written in the interest of the taxi companies’ owners, not the drivers.
The Arlington United Taxi Operators and Tenants and Workers United again organized the protest. Tejada was not in the office Friday morning, but the drivers were able to get a brief audience with Board member Mary Hynes and speak to Tejada on speakerphone, setting up a meeting for Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 3:00 p.m.
The demonstration was organized quickly after Yellow Cab Co. driver Abdellah Ouazzani said he was fired on Wednesday for speaking out against the cab companies. Ouazzani claims that a Yellow Cab manager struck him on the shoulder several times while demanding that he either sell back his taxi to the company or be fired.
“It went from peaceful protests and turned violent,” Ouazzani said. He filed a complaint with the police, who are investigating the incident, but Ouazzani did not have any bruises as a result of the alleged confrontation, we’re told. An official with Red Top Cab, which owns Yellow Cab Co., could not be reached for comment.
Acting Deputy County Manager Jay Farr asked the drivers to leave the office and move the protest to the County Board room, and then called the police. The drivers refused to relocate, but police remained next door in the County Manager’s office, and did not engage with the protesters.
“We’re not trying to have a confrontation,” Farr said. “We want to give them a chance to protest, but we have to conduct government business.”
Tejada’s aide met several times with Virginia New Majority Executive Director Jon Liss, who was leading the drivers, trying to negotiate a conclusion to the protest. Tejada couldn’t be reached for almost an hour, and when he was able to get on the phone, he spoke just briefly with the protesters.
“I feel bad that I can’t be in the office today,” Tejada said on speakerphone. “Thank you for expressing your feelings. I want to encourage you to stop by the human rights office to file a complaint.”
When asked if he would call Yellow Cab and demand Ouazzani be reinstated to his old position, Tejada said he would discuss it with the county attorney. After Tejada got off the phone, drivers grilled Hynes, asking for changes to the system, particularly a “driver’s bill of rights,” in hopes of ensuring that drivers could not be fired for speaking out.
“It’s upsetting to us if the allegations are true,” Hynes said. As far as getting changes done, however, “the system exists for a reason. The majority of the Board has not been in favor of many of their proposals in the past. In the end, it’s a contractor relationship. Fixing it is not as simple as waving a wand.”
The drivers left the offices shortly before noon, mostly satisfied that they had secured a meeting with Tejada and were able to speak with Hynes in person. Liss said their goal from the meeting — which is likely to include a second Board member, although it’s unclear who that will be — will be to put a public hearing on the agenda and work toward drafting a driver’s bill of rights into the county’s taxi ordinance.
“Right now, they can be canned any time the companies want,” Liss said. “A bill of rights would state they need to go through due process and have cause for firing them.”