Frias cab drivers plan Friday night strike

Frias Transportation Management cabdrivers plan a strike tonight against their company, but how effective that effort will be remains a mystery even to those who say they will join in.

Drivers at Frias, the largest cab company in town with five brands, said at a Wednesday night meeting they would gather at a central point on the Strip at 5 p.m. today, then drive in unison to the company’s yard west of Interstate 15 and return their cabs to start the strike.

Not only do they seek more pay in the form of higher commission on the fares they collect during a shift and certain other benefit enhancements, but they have voiced outrage that an out-of-town United Steelworkers Union official signed a contract on March 11 without a membership vote.

The majority of about 250 drivers at the meeting raised their hands in support of a walkout, in which they could be fired and have no union support. Some, however, wanted more time, or expressed fears that too few drivers would show up to make a walkout effective.

Nelson Liechtenstein, a labor history professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, said that strikes in general have declined in recent decades and that wildcats “are now quite rare.”

But he said that the Steelworkers’ action “doesn’t seem right to me. Even in very autocratic unions, you have a vote of some sort.”

In a March 11 letter to members, Steelworkers District Director Robert LaVenture said he signed the contract because he considered it “the best deal possible” and that a strike was sought “by a minority of drivers and some of them may not work for Frias.”

Meanwhile, the sanctioned strike at Yellow Checker Star Transportation, the Las Vegas second-largest cab company, has encountered some Only in Las Vegas obstacles in trying to spread the impact.

At a membership meeting Thursday, Mike Goodwin, the president of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, the parent of the union that represents 1,250 of the 1,700 Yellow Checker Star drivers, said a standard tactic of spreading a strike’s visibility has run into complications.

Unions often set up a large inflated rat near the premises of a company involved in a strike or doing business with a company being struck.

That was the plan for this action: Goodwin wanted to set up the rats outside Strip resorts still served by Yellow Checker Star cabs, but Clark County prohibits portable generators needed to blow up the rats on much of the Strip.

So far, the union has deployed just one big rat, at South Point, well south of the main tourist action.

Overall, Yellow Checker Star said, the number of driver’s shifts it has filled has crept up from about 52 percent at the start of the strike on March 3 to about 56 percent now, with great variation depending on the time of day and day of the week.

Union officials said about 700 drivers remain on strike. “We’re down to the bedrock,” Goowin said. “These guys are determined to carry through until we get a better contract.”

He said he received a letter from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., promising to help settle the strike and reporting that the senator had contacted Yellow Checker Star in that regard.

Company chief operating officer Bill Shranko said the company had not heard from Reid’s office and did not expect him to intervene.

He also reiterated the company’s stance that the terms of a contract unilaterally instituted last month after negotiations failed would not change.

Goodwin said the union on Thursday filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the company, alleging that a camera placed at a back entrance to its main cab parking main lot was being used to film strikers for potential future retribution.

The complaint continues the union’s effort to depict the strike as one based on unfair labor practices and not economics, entitling drivers to return to work with back pay.

Shranko said the company was taking pictures to document any violent incident and would continue to do so.

The number of pickets swelled on Thursday as the union handed out the $275 per week strike paychecks just outside the yard. Shranko said that led to blocked driveways for non-striking employees leaving and entering the yard.

“There was a lot of confrontation but no fights,” he said.

But union steward Sam Moffitt said the only impact was more congestion than usual.

Earlier this week, a non-striking driver was cited for battery after he left the yard and punched a picket in the face.

Moffitt said that could be grounds for termination, but Shranko said the company normally does not act before the courts adjudicating a citation.

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

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