Taxi drivers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, angry over what they call high rent fees and unfair competition from van and limo drivers, have begun picketing the terminal and handing out fliers to passengers.
"We just want to be treated fairly," said John Kober, who has driven a cab at BWI for nine years. "We have a lot invested here."
More than 120 drivers joined the Masters, Mates and Pilots union last spring, forming the Independent Cab Drivers Association. They plan to protest at the airport until the end of this week.
The picketing started Friday. Drivers did not disrupt passenger service, explaining that they want to negotiate in good faith. But they complained that the owner of Ground Transportation Professionals Inc. refuses to meet with them or discuss the contract.
The company has an exclusive contract with the State Aviation Administration to operate cab service at the airport.
Sangho Lee, Ground Transportation's general manager, would not comment on the pickets and said he did not know if managers would meet with the drivers.
But the president of Ground Transportation, Franklin S. Lee, had said in an interview Thursday, before the protest began, that he does not recognize the union because the drivers are all self-employed.
The drivers' yearly contracts expired at noon Friday. All 120-plus drivers signed new contracts under protest.
"We were forced to sign," Mr. Kober said. "They told us that if we didn't sign, we wouldn't be able to work."
The drivers' demands include:
* Limiting the number of cabs serving the airport, based on passenger traffic. Drivers have complained that the company keeps adding cabs, even though the number of people using the airport has declined.
* Capping the stand fee at the current $132 per week charged to each cab driver.
* Providing an impartial third party to arbitrate grievances.
The drivers also complain that vans and limos are allowed to break the rules and solicit passengers from the terminal. That and other transportation options, including free shuttles to Baltimore hotels, take away cab business, they say.
On Friday, a small group of drivers walked in front of the main terminal wearing a sign warning: "Passengers Beware. BWI taxi drivers are being denied rights to make a living. We want you in safe taxis and given the courteous service the public deserves. Please support our cause."
Mr. Lee, the president of Ground Transportation, said Thursday that many of the issues angering drivers are part of the company's contract with the state and cannot be changed.
"There is nothing to negotiate," he said. "The way they want it, I'm going to lose my business."