Taxi strike could snarl Las Vegas

After months of talks that went nowhere, the drivers union at Las Vegas’ second-largest cab company has set the industry’s first strike in nearly two decades.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, drivers at Yellow Checker Star Transportation will walk off the job in an action announced Thursday by the Industrial Technical Professional Employees Union Local 4873. Yellow Checker Star holds 600 operating permits, known as medallions, for one-fourth of a citywide taxi fleet vital to the movement of visitors around the Strip and to and from McCarran International Airport.

“The strike date could change if the employer comes back with a better offer, but that is doubtful,” union spokeswoman Nicole Korkolis said.

On Feb. 3, the company unilaterally implemented a contract rejected by 70 percent of union members in January. Drivers have worked and been paid under its terms since then.

Last year the drivers had rejected a less generous proposal.

Asked about prospects for further talks, Bill Shranko, Yellow Checker Star chief operating officer, on Tuesday said, “That’s not going to happen.”

Company officials have called their second contract offer, reached with the intervention of a federal mediator, the best compensation package in the local industry.

“Nobody likes to go on strike because everybody has families and kids,” driver Hailu Tikureneku said. “But we feel we have no choice because the company does not listen to us or respond to us. I’m feeling good about the strike.”

But several factors cloud how much impact a strike would have on the all-important tourist industry and whether it will help drivers win higher pay.

Shranko noted that the strike’s start time comes midshift, so it is unclear how many drivers will abruptly stop work to return cabs to the company’s lot. If they do, thousands of people could face long waits for a ride or a long walk to their hotel after a Saturday night on the Strip.

The full effect would be felt on Sunday as visitors head to McCarran for their flights home.

Yellow Checker Star may also be able to maintain a presence on the street. According to the union, the company has 1,704 drivers, but 400 are not union members. So the 70 percent rejection vote by those who participated in the election still amounted to less than half of the total.

The Nevada Taxicab Authority directors have given administrator Charles Harvey authority to issue as many as 30 medallions to each of the other 13 cab brands to help cover any shortfall in service.

Harvey said he would wait to see how the strike unfolds before distributing them, while the board could convene quickly to take further action.

Even with the extra medallions, Harvey has acknowledged in recent weeks that it is still unknown how many could go into service on short notice.

One indicator suggests they are already having trouble. Instances of companies unable to find enough drivers, known as blown shifts, have soared in recent years.

In January 2011 there were 276 reports of blown shifts, nearly two-thirds occurring in Laughlin, while some companies reported perfect attendance.

Last month, the blown shifts had jumped to 2,619, as every company had some problems and the Laughlin share fell below 10 percent.

Looming in the background is the expired contract between the largest cab company, Frias Transportation Management, the owner of five brands, and the United Steelworkers Union.

The two are due to resume negotiations under the aegis of a federal mediator on Monday.

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

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