Cabbies at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport went on a five-hour wildcat strike Monday that ended when airport officials agreed to consider a list of their grievances.
"There's only so much you can do to people. We can't take it any more," said D.O. Nwajei of the Atlanta Taxi Cab Association Inc., whose membership tops 1,500. "We've been pushed to the wall." The cabbies said they were frustrated with working conditions and what some labelled police harassment.
By early afternoon, the work stoppage had finally ended - but some cabbies threatened to take their protest to the next level if the airport doesn't make changes. "Our action today was confined to the airport," said Rasaq Kasumu, president of the city's taxicab association, "but next time our action will affect the whole city."
During the wildcat strike, officials at the world's busiest airport called in taxis and limousines - which are usually not allowed to work at Hartsfield-Jackson - to pick up stranded passengers. Some limo passengers, unaware of the strike, couldn't believe their good fortune.
"I expected to be getting into a regular cab," said 32-year-old Chicagoan Gary Butcher, "but I'm excited about putting in $30 for the same ride." The strike began about 9:30 am. after Atlanta police ticketed taxis that overflowed an airport staging area known as the "bullpen."
The cabs were impeding traffic on a major airport access road, said the police, who wrote tickets after cabbies refused to move their parked vehicles. The protest led to taxi lines of more than 100 waiting passengers before airport officials called in outside cabs. The lines had dropped to about 20 passengers by 11 am.
By early afternoon, airport officials had thrown out the tickets issued a few hours earlier and agreed to look into complaints about limited space in the bullpen. The bullpen currently has about 300 spaces for more than a thousand cabs now servicing the airport, protesters complained.
Limited bullpen space has been a long-standing complaint by airport cabbies, who aggressively vie for the airport's lucrative business. The cabbies work for a number of different taxi companies. By 2 pm, cabbies resumed making pick-ups after their representatives met with airport officials.
"They're back on the road now," Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Herschel Grangent said Monday afternoon. "They rolled out of the staging area cheering and blowing their horns." Taxi driver Chris Okla considers drivers' concerns serious, but was relieved to be back behind the wheel as the work stoppage ended.
"Finally," Okla said. "I feel good about making a living for my family."