Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

Unlike colleagues who returned to driving, holdouts each refused to pay Coventry Connections, Ottawa’s largest cab company and operator of Blue Line, Capital and West-Way Taxi, thousands of dollars in fees for dispatch services and taxi ranks, which covered months in which they did not work due to the pandemic.

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More than 100 Ottawa drivers who have not returned to driving since the pandemic began say they have been prevented not only by COVID-19 but also by their former company, their union and the insurance industry.

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The frustrated drivers are among more than 1,000 taxi drivers who stayed home during the first weeks of the pandemic. According to a April 2020 memo to Ottawa’s councilors, only 114 of Ottawa’s 1,192 taxis reported for service. But while a majority of drivers in recent months have returned to work, retired or changed jobs, about 100 cabbiers did not.

Unlike colleagues who returned to driving, holdouts each refused to pay Coventry Connections, Ottawa’s largest cab company and operator of Blue Line, Capital and West-Way Taxi, thousands of dollars in fees for dispatch services and taxi ranks, which covered months in which they did not work due to the pandemic.

Cabbie Abdul Hamid Hussein, 62, claims the federal benefits he received last year were not intended to be paid to Coventry. “They say it’s money for us to survive, not to pay for my (cab) roof sign that stayed home,” Hussein says.

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“AND you provide a service and I pay you… my plate was at home in a drawer. Why should I pay you a fee? “Agrees driver Mahmut Mahmutoglu, 63.

The struggles of these drivers are the latest challenging chapter for a taxi industry that has had to cope not only with the pandemic, but also before that, the arrival of carpooling services such as Uber and Lyft. Drivers are complaining that their pandemic-related stress is worse because taxi plates they bought years ago and hoped to resell when they retired were massively devalued after Uber and other services were legalized in Ottawa in 2016.

“Since the city of Ottawa legalized Uber, the value of our plate is zero,” says Cabbie George Jarawan.

But the pain in the Ottawa taxi industry has also been felt widely, as Coventry Connections president Marc Andre Way said in an interview that his company was close to going bankrupt last year and was considering closing.

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The holdout drivers are in conflict not only with Coventry Connections but also with their former union, Unifor Local 1688, which continues to represent the approximately 700 drivers who returned to work for Coventry.

“The union has left us. They did not defend their drivers, “claims driver Nadim Krayem.

Ali Enad, the local president, disagrees. “We did as much as we could to help everyone, ”he says. “ In fact, most of our members are happy. ”

Enad says that according to their agreement, the drivers had to pay monthly fees for handling services and taxi rental, regardless of whether they were driving or not. Both Enad and Way, the president of Coventry, compare the fees with rent for an apartment to be paid by a tenant, whether the apartment is inhabited or not.

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But the agreement lacked language to cover an emergency like the pandemic, and when COVID-19 came to Ottawa, the union asked its members not to pay the fees, Enad says.

When the pandemic happened, we asked the company to freeze the course, and the company said no, and we had a fight back and forth, ”says Enad.

Taxis were queuing at the train station in Ottawa.
Taxis were queuing at the train station in Ottawa. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

The union also consulted government levels, but found, Enad says, “no one has the authority to force the company not to target us.”

In May 2020, the case went to an arbitrator, who handed down his decision in early March this year.

Enad says the arbitrator ruled that outstanding shipping fees should be discounted, averaging about 50 percent. The total amount owed varied from driver to driver, but in the worst cases, a driver would have to pay around $ 3,000 to work again for Coventry, Enad says. Most drivers accepted the arbitrator’s decision, which also came with a deadline to sign up on March 31, Enad says.

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The drivers who persevered and refused to pay the outstanding fees, “were misled by other people who want to play politics, and they missed the deadline,” Enad says. “As of April 1, they were out of the union and they were out of business.”

One driver who paid the outstanding fees and went back to work was Amrik Singh, former president of Unifor Local 1688. And yet Singh is critical of the work the union did.

Singh, along with the drivers who persevered, claim that the arbitrator’s decision was simply an agreement reached by the union and Coventry, which the arbitrator adopted. “The union and the company both asked the arbitrator to become a mediator, and he tried to mediate the problem, and eventually he asked both parties to sit down and agree on something,” Singh said.

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If I were chairman of the union, I would have gotten a better deal, ”he says.

But the Way of Coventry Connections says Singh and the holdout drivers misunderstand what happened when the arbitrator became involved.

“The role of an arbitrator is to listen to both sides of the story and come up with a fair solution. Not everyone gets what they want, Way says.” That’s exactly what the arbitrator did. gave people time to get back to work. ”

Abdulhamid Hussein (L) and Mahout Mahmutoglu (R) are part of a breakaway group of drivers in the city who are considering starting their own company because they do not want to drive for Coventry Connections.
Abdulhamid Hussein (L) and Mahout Mahmutoglu (R) are part of a breakaway group of drivers in the city who are considering starting their own company because they do not want to drive for Coventry Connections. Postmedia

The drivers who persevered note that during the pandemic, Coventry benefited from federal emergency wage subsidies. Way acknowledges that Coventry has received a grant for ” the limited amount of staff we had left because we had laid off a lot of staff.

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Current union president Enad says Coventry, along with its drivers, were in a bad way because of the pandemic.

The company showed us papers, ”says Enad. “ Blue Line and Capital were to go bankrupt. They wanted to close the company, even though they received government support. ”

Way confirms that it was “absolutely true” that his business was at one point financially hampered.

Holdout drivers are researching how to start their own business and say their biggest obstacle is getting insurance. They claim that Coventry is blocking their efforts behind the scenes to get insurance.

We are not that strong, ”Way answers. He says that drivers have access to so-called facility insurance, which must guarantee access to high-speedrisk drivers, but is “extremely expensive”.

“It’s a question of how much you want to pay,” Way says.

In fact, this year Coventry had its own major problems getting insurance for drivers after many insurance companies left the market during the pandemic and prices rose. Now Coventry drivers pay around $ 825 a month per car for insurance flowing through Coventry to the insurance company, Way says.

Enad says that even though the holdout drivers have left the union, he is willing to try to help them.

I sympathize with them, to be honest, ”he says. “I wish I could help them and I tried. I will keep trying.”

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