SuperShuttle Drivers Find Common Enemy in Veolia

SuperShuttle Drivers Find Common Enemy in Veolia

c. 2014 LaborNotes

It’s been a bumpy road for SuperShuttle drivers attempting to organize at three D.C.-area airports. To win recognition, the drivers must prove they are employees—of a global corporation that’s making more money off workers’ fees than customers’ payments.

Over 200 SuperShuttle drivers, mostly West African immigrants, serve the three airports surrounding Washington, D.C. At all hours of the day and night, they pick up airport-bound passengers, who usually book online ahead of time. Drivers also take passengers from the airport to homes and hotels. Rides are shared among multiple passengers.

SuperShuttle calls its drivers “franchisees” and says they’re independent contractors, which disqualifies them from protections like minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and the right to organize a union.

The drivers are working with Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1994, which represents county government workers in Montgomery County, Maryland.

‘YOU OWE THEM’

Patrick Benhene started driving for SuperShuttle at Baltimore Washington International airport six years ago. He leased a van from the company, signed mountains of paperwork, and began driving.

He did not understand the full extent of the fees SuperShuttle would demand from him in exchange for permission to drive the blue and yellow van.

Benhene had to pay a $35,000 “franchise fee,” spread over years of weekly payments, with interest. He has paid that off, but continues to pay licensing fees, insurance fees, a $500 “system fee,” and a leasing fee to use the van every week.

“Before you start the week, you owe them,” he said.

SuperShuttle also takes 10 percent of Benhene’s revenue for the week (drivers at other airports lose up to 25 percent). He said they even deduct this percentage from tips paid online.

Drivers sleep in their cars, working 18- to 20-hour days to pay back everything they owe in fees—and sometimes make a little money to take home. Many end the week with only $300 or $400 in earnings, which must be used to pay for the next week’s gas.

Claire Evans has driven at Dulles International for a couple of years. There have been busy weeks when she worked every day and still lost money, she said.

Both say the fact that they have already paid so much money into the company keeps them from leaving the job.

“You look for a way out,” said Evans, who is still paying off her franchise fee. “You want to get out, but need your franchise money back… [but SuperShuttle] will have any excuses not to get money back.”

According to the union, SuperShuttle actually makes more money from drivers’ fees than from customer fares.

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