Scrappy Cabbies Take On Multinationals

Cabbie leader Fisseha Tesfaye and Mateos Chekol of the AFL-CIO in the WUST studio

Cabbie leader Fisseha Tesfaye (left) and Mateos Chekol of the AFL-CIO in the WUST studio

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A scrappy group of Prince George’s cabbies is determined not to go quietly into the night. Instead of being pushed out by several multibillion-dollar corporations, they’ve stood their ground, fought back, and now may be on the verge of victory.

Despite three months of continued cabbie protests outside the Gaylord, the largest hotel on the east coast remained resolute that there would be no taxi stand on its property. But at a Friday meeting, the hotel put a surprising offer on the table.

“The Gaylord sat down with us and they offered us a proposal [for a taxi stand],” said cabbie leader Fisseha Tesfaye. While a good start, the Gaylord’s proposal would locate the taxi stand too far away from the hotel’s entrance, said Tesfaye. “We’re not there yet. We didn’t get what we need exactly,” he said.

While declining to issue an official statement, a Gaylord spokeswoman said the hotel is continuing its ongoing negotiations with the cab drivers.

The Gaylord is owned and operated by Marriott, which reported nearly $12 billion in 2012 revenues. The hotel is the focal point of the National Harbor complex, a privately owned, $3-billion luxury resort and mini-city nestled along the banks of the Potomac River, just over the D.C. line in Prince George’s. Parked in front of the hotel are the vehicles of its private transportation vendor, the French multinational corporation Veolia, which reported $38 billion in 2012 revenues.

When not protesting under the hot sun in front of the hotel, cabbies can be found in the shade of a nearby parking garage. That’s where they wait, hoping to be summoned via a bellman’s whistle to pick up a passenger. Hidden from hotel guests, cabbies say they can’t compete with Veolia’s highly visible vehicles, which include black sedans, blue SuperShuttle vans and recently introduced white and green hybrids, priced to compete more directly with taxis.

The cabbies’ fight to be seen has been a David-and-Goliath struggle, said Mateos Chekol, an organizer with the AFL-CIO and the National Taxi Workers Alliance. “It’s just incredible to see what drivers can do when they come together and they fight back,” he said. While optimistic, Chekol cautioned against letting up. “This fight is not over at all.”

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