At least 25 taxi drivers in Saskatoon, Canada, have been suspended by United Cabs after raising allegations of racism and discrimination by their employer at a demonstration Wednesday. The company denies the allegations and says it moved to lock out the employees for a wildcat strike.
Around 50 drivers, mostly of Pakistani descent, gathered Wednesday night at a parking lot near the airport to raise concerns about alleged verbal abuse by company managers and to protest the firing of a co-worker.
Many drivers received messages during the demonstration telling them they were suspended, which was confirmed by United Cabs management on Thursday. United Group general manager Scott Suppes arrived at the parking lot and tore signs off the windows of several cabs, he said in an interview.
The drivers took to the streets again Thursday, eventually moving their protest inside the lobby of City Hall, where they stood waiting for several hours while demanding a meeting with Mayor Don Atchison.
"People decided to get together and demonstrate and get their voices heard so their rights wouldn't be violated," said Fawad Muzaffar, 33, a United driver who was suspended Thursday.
"This treatment of locking people out (for) making a legal demonstration is not fair," he said. "We should be treated fairly. There should be a code (under) which people should be fired... Right now, there is no ifs or buts about it."
The cab drivers allege one of the company's managers has verbally abused many of the Pakistani and other South Asian employees with racial slurs.
"We are suffering from discrimination and verbal violations," said driver Sherjeel Butt. "We need justice here. That's why we approached the mayor. We moved from all over Canada to come to Saskatoon. They fire people for no reason because there are lots of people moving from around Canada to Saskatoon (to do the job)."
Suppes said any comments perceived to be racist were the result of a "misunderstanding" from a manager who "may have said some things that (the Pakistani drivers) may have found offensive."
"We are so far from racist here," he said. "If we were, why would we hire these people in the first place? We have a multicultural organization here with people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds. It's absolutely not true."
Suppes said the company "scrambled" to provide service on Wednesday night and again Thursday, but was meeting demand.
"The fortunate part is that we're getting to a time of the year where it's getting to be less busy," he said. "If we have to, we'll get some new drivers."
The drivers had a bevy of complaints ranging from how the taxi industry is regulated to hiring practices to being told to fill up with gas at United Group stations, which Suppes defended as "good business."
Muzaffar called for a city-run taxi commission made up of company representatives, drivers and members of the public to deal with licensing and enforcement of the industry.