Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Independent Contract - 4

I should emphasize again that, tipping etc aside, drivers were treated better at most other companies than at Yellow. Despite being much smaller, both Desoto and Luxor gave (and continue to give) superior radio service - largely because they kept their experienced drivers instead of firing them.

At Desoto, Marvin would even give his drivers a chance to face their accusers over complaints. If the matter was serious enough, Marvin would invite the customer to come in to discuss the complaint with the driver. Very civilized. As Marvin once pointed out in an oblique response to my labor agitating, his cab drivers were treated much better than workers toiling in sweatshops in the 1890s.

On the other hand, that's a pretty low baseline.

The arrogance with which lease drivers were (and still are) treated bordered on the surreal.

I actually interview at Luxor twice. The first time, some cowboy named Davis took my information by shouting personal and rude questions at me from across a room filled with people. He actually looked surprised when I walked out on him.

Every morning before going to work at Desoto, I'd get coffee at a place across Geary Street. Every morning when I arrived, Marvin would be sitting pontificating to several medallion holders. Since I had to pass directly by them to get to the counter, I said "hello" to them every morning. Every morning they snubbed me.

In fact, few medallion holders would deign to talk with a lease driver. I discussed the subject with another driver shortly after I started at Desoto.
  • "But we're all doing the same job," I said.
  • "Maybe cab drivers are just as stupid as everybody says they are," he replied.
I think I need one more macho confrontation tale to more fully illuminate the true status of the lease driver in the taxi industry. I promise that it'll be the last.

My brakes went out (as usual) at Desoto and I drove the car into the small garage to be fixed. I walked over and started to tell a mechanic what was wrong with the car. He interrupted me and screamed that I should move the effing cab out of his garage. When I hesitated, he commanded me to "do it now!"

I don't think I'd ever seen this guy before and I'd signed a contract saying that I was under nobody's control. I actually had a copy of the damn thing by then. He had no right to boss me around. I was the one losing money not him. If he'd been polite or even civil, I would've moved the the car but I wasn't about to take orders from every random smuc that came along.

I went down to talk with the dispatchers about getting another cab. A few minutes later, the mechanic showed up carrying a tire iron in his right hand. He started screaming obscenities at me and threatened to attack me if I didn't move the car.

I've never liked to fight and I grew up Irish. Through trial and error, I've developed a technique of standing motionless and staring silently at my would-be assailants, straitening up to highlight my size and forcing them to initiate the action. My father was a trained boxer so I have a good idea of what to do if I am assaulted. I use my stance to translate this.

The mechanic, hunched over and yelling threats, slowly moved in but, the closer he got to me, the more fully he understood that I was 6" taller and 4o pounds heavier than he. Eventually, as almost everyone in my adult life has, he chose another method of conflict resolution.

Now ... let's give the mechanic the benefit of the doubt. He was obviously having a bad day and lost his temper. If he'd thought about it, if he'd not been carried away by his emotions, he would have at least left the tire iron behind. Not a good move. It could've earned him hard time. Furthermore, no company - not even Yellow - would knowingly allow such behavior.

Nonetheless, this mechanic clearly thought that a lease driver's status was so much lower than his own that the driver should be under the mechanics thumb. While his actions might have extreme, his attitude is not. All the salaried workers at cab companies from the dispatchers to the bookkeepers to the secretaries to the people answering the phones have been taught to think they are superior to the lease drivers who bring in most of the money. And, they have a point. The law protects employees. Independent contractors are powerless.

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