Taxi drivers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, angry that their fees have gone up while ridership has declined, want help from a union to protest working conditions they say keep them from earning a decent living.
The cabbies could vote later this month to associate with the Masters, Mates and Pilots Union, the marine division of the International Longshoremen's Association, which represents workers at the Port of Baltimore.
The 116 cabbies at the airport all are independent contractors.
The drivers said they have tried for years without success to resolve their problems with the owners of Ground Transportation Professionals (GTP), which has an exclusive contract to provide airport taxi service.
"The drivers are getting hit from all sides and they are asking for some relief," said F. Kirk Kolodner, a lawyer representing those who want to organize.
They chose the maritime union because it already has ties to the state Department of Transportation, which operates the port and BWI.
Although they could not form a local and wouldn't pay dues because of their status as independent contractors, the drivers could take advantage of the union's lawyers and its political connections, said Jim Hopkins, treasurer of the Masters, Mates and Pilots.
"They came to us with some concerns and we are willing to help them out," he said.
For example, the drivers are complaining that GTP won't allow them to operate cabs more than 3 years old and that the company allows too many cabs to operate at the airport, spreading business too thin.
Sangho Lee, GTP's manager, dismissed their complaints and attributed their discontent to the stagnant national economy.
"We just can't go and change things until the contract with the state is over," Mr. Lee said. "The economy may pick up later this year and then the drivers will be happy."
The dispute resembles one 14 years ago that led to a strike by cab drivers to protest their weekly rental fees to Airocar, which held the contract then. And while a strike does not appear imminent, drivers say it is time to band together.
"There just needs to be organization to solve all these problems," said Webb Perdue, who has driven a cab at the airport for five years.
Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA) officials acknowledged that many cab drivers are unhappy, but also said their problems stem from the economy.
"We have had a declining taxicab ridership," said Nicholas J. Schaus, the MAA's deputy administrator. "They are feeling the effects of the economy."
Mr. Schaus conceded that GTP had been slow to fulfill some of its obligations, such as hiring a dispatcher for the central terminal, but said other disputes can be resolved only by the company and drivers.
But the drivers blame the loss of business on the state. "BWI right now is a dead airport," said Mike Klyotskin, who has been driving a cab at the airport for eight years.
From 1990 to 1992, the number of cab trips out of BWI has fallen to 188,000 from 209,000, a 10 percent decrease.