Cabdrivers of Broward Unite; Behind the Fort Lauderdale Airport Protests

When Murat Jean-Charles motored into the Yellow Cab holding yard on a Wednesday morning last month, the cabbie didn't know his fellow drivers were about to uncork some civil disobedience. But the all-points call was already out among the fleet: Assemble at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Jean-Charles joined the ranks.

Rows of cabs were lined up at the airport, but the drivers refused to take passengers. The work stoppage was a not-so-subtle message to Yellow Cab management. Excited cabbies politely ignored police requests to move their vehicles. Finally, tow trucks were hauled in. As one drew close to a parked cab, Jean-Charles did a Superman dive over the concrete, putting his body between the taxi and the tow.

The face-plant public protest earned Jean-Charles a night in jail, not to mention murky future prospects behind the wheel of a Yellow Cab. But the arrest also spotlighted the gripes Broward's cabdrivers are currently chewing over.

"We have so many issues with Yellow Cab," Jean-Charles told New Times recently after answering a knock on his Oakland Park door. "I decided to kill myself just for the drivers so something could be done."

That soundbite might fit better carved into a tombstone, but Jean-Charles is serious. A squat Haitian native who's been driving since 2008, he's been living in the States since 1986 and also has16 years with the U.S. Army, including time in Iraq. So tow trucks don't exactly faze him, he explained. Sitting in his living room, with one of his young daughters crawling over his shoulder and midday cartoons flashing across the TV, Jean-Charles explained why he was willing to eat an arrest for labor relations.

There are two main issues. One, Yellow Cab recently installed DriveCam equipment in the vehicles in February. The gear monitors a driver's performance and videos behavior behind the wheel. Jean-Charles says the drivers don't appreciate the on-board babysitter. "We don't have a problem with the company putting a camera in the car, but the way they do it, it's not right. It's not to protect the drivers."

The second issue involves a rate increase in what the county charges taxi drivers for pickups at the airport. Under the most recent contract, the county charges $3.50 a pickup. Yellow Cab pays $1.50, then takes $2 from the drivers to cover the rest of the charge. Jean-Charles says the extra money is hurting drivers, who often pay up to $500 a week to the company in order to drive.

John Camillo, president and CEO of Yellow Cab's parent B&L Service Inc., counters the claims about the DriveCam. He points out that the equipment is there to ensure the drivers are acting within the rules. Also, the cameras protect drivers. As proof, Camillo cites an incident involving a cabbie assaulted by a passenger. "I've had drivers thank me for putting them in the cars," he tells New Times.

On the airport fee issue, Camillo points out that the company is still cutting massive checks to the county for its share of the $3.50 pickup. "We don't make any money off the amount the airport charges," he says, adding that he's working with the county on issue. "I don't want to try this in the press. I am just going to say Yellow Cab is entirely cognizant of the issue and is working hard on behalf of its drivers and the industry."

As for Jean-Charles, he's facing charges of obstructing justice without violence. At first, it looked like he might lose his Yellow Cab gig, but now he's back on the job. As for internal discipline, there's no sign what could be coming down the line. Regarding the main issues, drivers say they're still negotiating. More protests could be coming if they don't see some give from management. 

Follow Kyle on Twitter @kyletalking. For tips, send an e-mail.

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