September 18, 2015 — Solidarity Against Austerity wants to express our solidarity and support for the hundreds of local taxi drivers who have been recently locked out by their employer. Coventry Connections is the near-monopoly private company that, with City of Ottawa authorization, dominates our local taxi industry – including the drivers. Coventry locked out the Airport taxi drivers on August 11 following a breakdown in contract negotiations, and they followed this with a second lockout of Capital drivers (Blue Line and Capital are both owned by Coventry) on August 25.

The fightback being waged by these workers is impressive, as they are under huge new pressures. In the case of the airport drivers, they are refusing to accept enormous per-trip fee increases that will devastate their livelihood. For that, the company, in collusion with the City Councilsupported Airport Authority, locked them out by cutting off their electronic dispatch system and their access to the airport to work.

Recent context here is key. Coventry Connections cut a dirty deal with the Airport Authority that included massive (400%) fee increases in June. The company is now trying to impose that rotten deal on all of the drivers. The outrageous fee increase amounts to a huge wage rollback for drivers, a group that had already been struggling to make a living wage. The Airport Authority then launched an attack on drivers’ political rights by obtaining a draconian court injunction that severely restricts their rights to legal protest at the airport – their workplace. The injunction severely limits the numbers of drivers “allowed” to protest to just 20 – including family members or community supporters – and contains them in a small pen. Even leafletting – a vital form of political free speech – has been restricted, a deeply disturbing precedent.

The second lockout – with Capital Cab drivers – also involves employerimposed fees, but also insurance cost increases, and other working conditions. Coventry locked them out after negotiations on a three-year deal broke down, and Capital drivers have held rotating protests at the employer’s offices on Coventry Road ever since.

Solidarity Against Austerity fully supports the demands of these drivers and their union (UNIFOR Local 1688), who were already facing income losses due to unfair competition from the illegal taxi service known as Uber. We are discussing ways to organize broader support and solidarity, including wider distribution of their call to boycott all taxi service from (but not to) the Ottawa airport until a fair settlement is reached.

But a consumer boycott is not enough. The City of Ottawa must intervene in these disputes, both as regulators of the taxi industry, and as holders of two of the fourteen seats on the Airport Board of Directors (currently held by Brendan McGuinty and Barbara Farber). Mayor Jim Watson has an obligation to protect both the public interest and the interest of these workers. He and Ottawa Council to follow the lead of Vancouver and Calgary and reestablish the moratorium on access of illegal taxi operators like Uber to the Ottawa taxi market. Taxi services are a vital form of public transit, and like all such public services, their delivery should be affordable, democratically accountable, safe, and a source of decent-paying and stable jobs.

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Categories: Statements, Workers Action