Ex-local rep for taxi drivers sues former union

A former local representative for taxicab drivers filed suit against his former union for accepting a contract earlier this year with Las Vegas largest cab company.

The complaint by Tadios Tessema, filed in U.S. District Court late Friday, said that the United Steelworkers violated state law in March when its leadership accepted a deal without a membership vote. Although the union said at the time its bylaws allowed this unusual action, a section of Nevada law requires a vote, according to court papers.

The deal headed off a potential strike at Frias Transportation Management, which owns five cab brands. This happened at a time that drivers from a different union were already staging a strike at No. 2 Yellow Checker Star and created the prospect of idling more than half of the cabs in the city.

Already, Local 711-A, which represents the drivers, was in the midst of leadership turmoil and being run from a district office in Albuquerque, N.M.

Drivers had rejected Frias’ initial contract proposal last October by a nearly unanimous vote, according to the union at the time. Little progress was made in the ensuing months, despite the intervention of a federal mediator.

In March, Frias put forward its best and final offer. Union officials then stunned local members by accepting it rather and putting it to a vote.

In an email at the time, Steelworkers district director Robert LaVenture raised concern that another rejection was in the offing due to the “misinformation and the misguided goals of some of the bargaining committee and individuals in an out of the union.” Tessema chaired the local negotiating committee and was ousted from the post in late March after publicly criticizing Steelworkers leadership.

Agreeing to the contract, he added, served the “best interest of the majority and not the minority.”

The anger generated by the action caused more than 100 drivers to return their cabs to the Frias lot en masse on March 27, called a protest in court papers but an illegal wildcat strike by the union. A week later, according to the complaint, Frias terminated 371 drivers.

Frias has about 1,900 total drivers.

Nearly 250 of those drivers applied for unemployment compensation, but have so far been denied. The court papers said the decision is now under appeal with the Nevada Employment Security Division.

The union obtained, through its grievance procedure, a reinstatement pledge for about 250 of the drivers provided that they sign releases for any further legal actions. The lawsuit challenges validity of that as well.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at 702-387-5290 or at toreiley@reviewjournal.com.