Taxi drivers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, complaining about high fees and unfair competition from van services, are planning to picket at the airport this morning to make public what they call poor working conditions.
Organizers said cab service would not be interrupted, but warned that today's job action was a first step in an attempt to force the owner of Ground Transportation Professionals Inc. which has an exclusive contract with the Maryland Department of Transportation to provide cab service at BWI, to stop "exploiting" the workers.
"We are trying to negotiate," said William Adams Jr., who has driven a cab for 28 years at BWI and is acting president of the drivers association. "In the contract is everything the way [the owner] wants it done and nothing to help us. It's a one-way contract."
But Franklin S. Lee, president of Ground Transportation Professionals (GTP), said yesterday that there was nothing to discuss.
He said many of the issues the drivers are angry about were part of the company's contract with the state and cannot be changed.
"There is nothing to negotiate," said Mr. Lee, whose company's contract with the state dates to 1981. "The way they want it, I'm going to lose my business."
Although members of the drivers association voted in the spring to affiliate with a union, Mr. Lee said he did not consider the drivers to be unionized because they are all independent contractors who pay GTP $132 a week to serve the airport.
The drivers earn whatever they collect in fares and tips, which they said averages about $100 a day for five trips. Drivers said a trip from BWI to Baltimore's Inner Harbor, for example, runs from $15 to $20.
The drivers must buy their cars and pay for upkeep and insurance.
The cab drivers voted 77-to-43 to join the Atlantic and Gulf Region Masters, Mates and Pilots Union, which is part of the International Longshoremen's Association. The ILA also represents workers at the port of Baltimore, according to union official Ron Schoop.
But it remained unclear yesterday what the legal status of the drivers is.
While Mr. Lee's position was that the drivers are not unionized, Mr. Schoop said the drivers are full union members who paid dues in the same way boat pilots are union members even though they too are self-employed.
Mr. Schoop said, however, the drivers' vote to join the union had not yet been authorized by the National Labor Relations Board.
The drivers said they want Mr. Lee to stop requiring them to wear company-mandated uniforms, which drivers said they must rent for $5 a week.
And they don't like Mr. Lee's limit on the age of cars. The drivers want to keep cars until they are four model years old; the company prohibits their use after three years.
The drivers also want to lengthen their contracts with GTP from one to three years.
The drivers claim GTP charged cab drivers a high weekly fee of $132 to work at the airport because it overbid to win the contract in 1991, when it agreed to pay the state $1.75 million over five years, double the minimum bid requirement.
Mr. Schoop also said that limos, or vans, were a threat to the cab business because they offer lower rates.
The limo drivers are not supposed to solicit customers, but the union official said the rule is not enforced.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Lee said he was not aware of the planned job action, but said, "Nobody can stop them." He added, however, "If they want to work here, they have to go by the contract."
Mr. Lee said he cannot reduce the stand fee without losing money and had no plans to change the maximum age of cars.
He also said that his high bid to extend his contract with the state two years ago simply means his profit is less.
"What has that got to do with them?" Mr. Lee said. "They want it all their way. They can't do that. We have a few bad apples. Anybody who has a problem can leave any time they want."
Adrienne Walker-Pittman, a spokeswoman for BWI, said the union has not applied for a permit, which is required for anyone who wishes to protest or distribute literature. She said workers could be subject to arrest.