The National Labor Relations Board has sided with about 350 taxi drivers at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, ruling that they should be classified as employees, not independent contractors, by the company that holds the state contract to operate cabs at the airport.
The drivers, who work for BWI Taxi Management Inc., have said for years that they should be treated as employees and given access to benefits such as unemployment and workers' compensation insurance.
Two years ago, the drivers started a drive to unionize, but the effort stalled as BWI Taxi appealed a preliminary ruling in their favor to higher levels at the NLRB. With the NLRB decision on Friday stating that the drivers should be treated as employees, a vote on whether to unionize that was taken two years ago will likely be tallied in the next week or two, said John Singleton, a Lutherville attorney for the drivers.
Singleton said the NLRB decision could complicate a five-year state contract that the Maryland Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation gave to BWI Taxi in April under guidelines that stipulated the drivers were contractors.
Under that contract, BWI Taxi promised to pay the state $12.1 million over the life of the contract for the opportunity to operate a fleet of cabs at the airport. The company gives the state a portion of the fares it charges travelers, and the company and drivers keep the rest.
Singleton said the contract may have to be revisited because the drivers, if they're unionized, would have the right to bargain over their pay, working conditions and benefits.
"How can they promise they're going to pay $12 million if you still have to negotiate what these drivers are going to be paid," said Singleton. "The whole fundamental contract of how this service is being performed has been altered now."
Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the airport and the aviation administration, said the airport was reviewing the NLRB decision and what it could mean for the taxi contract.
"I wouldn't expect any immediate effect on the service or the contract," Dean said.
Saeid Esfarjani, CEO of BWI Taxi Management, said that his company would appeal the NLRB decision and that he didn't think it would affect the new contract. His company held the previous contract for taxi service at the airport.
"We're definitely going to have an objection on that decision because we do not believe they are employees," Esfarjani said. "They have been in this category for the last 35 years."
Esfarjani said he was not worried about the drivers attempting to unionize because a lot of the rules and regulations that the company has to deal with are set by the Maryland Aviation Administration, which operates the airport.
"A lot of these rules and regulations exist under the MAA contract that the company can't touch," Esfarjani said.