Taxi dispatcher speaks out

A letter to the Kelowna community:

My name is Eric Reite and I have lived in Kelowna since 2004. For 18 years (14 years as a driver and 4 years as a dispatcher) I have also been proud to serve the people who live and visit this community through my work at Kelowna Cabs.

I am sure many people by now know there is an ongoing labour dispute at Kelowna Cabs after they locked out their employees at the end of February. I was one of those employees that was locked out, and this is my story that I felt was important to share with our community.

I am a taxi dispatcher, but before I started working at the head office, I was a taxi driver, a career I started in 1983. I knew firsthand how important a driver’s relationship with the dispatchers working at headquarters to connect us with our customers, to make sure we knew what the circumstances were, and to understand what the customer needed. Because we are constantly on the road, we rely on those dispatchers to get that information to us.

Drivers today have more advantages than I did when I drove. Things like GPS and instant messages were not standard back then. Those are added tools that can be beneficial, but it is not a replacement with being able to connect to someone who understands the community.

All of us who have dealt with any form of customer service knows the value of being able to talk to someone live instead of having navigate through a poorly designed website or an automated telephone system that makes you press a hundred buttons.

As a dispatcher, I also help manage crisis situations that happen when drivers are on the road. If a driver is put in a situation where their personal safety is in jeopardy, I can connect them to as well as alert local authorities. If a passenger suffers a medical emergency, I can help the driver connect to emergency medical personnel quickly. These are just some of the parts of my job that most people don’t see, but they are critical.

Despite the fact that Kelowna Cabs should understand the nature of our work and recognize that its not only beneficial but essential that the work is performed locally, they continue to be driven by a desire to cut costs at the expense of the people they claim to serve. It’s why they have pushed to have use of this outsourced call centre. It’s why, several months earlier, they threatened to lay off the entire staff and replace us all with an app. If it weren’t for our union, MoveUP, who filed an unfair labour practice application, we would all be out of a job now.

It disheartens me to have to say this because I value the work I have done for this company of the years and the relationships that I have, but when I see their board chair Andy Sandhu going on the news and telling people that the employees are happy and that it is the union that is pressuring us, it goes to show just how out-of-touch this employer is.

I am not surprised though. A day after they locked out us from our jobs (and yes, it is a lockout, not a strike), one of their share holders (and former board member) left a voicemail asking me to call him. When I called him he asked if we could meet so I agreed and we set up a meeting for the next morning. After giving it some thought, I decided that since I was not the shop steward and had only a passive role as a union member in the negotiations between the union and Kelowna Cabs, it would not be appropriate to meet with this person so I called him to cancel the meeting. It was on this call the share holder told me very plainly that I was welcome to return to work as long as I disavowed my union and claimed If I did not do so, I would never work at Kelowna Cabs again. Evidently, they don’t have a clue as to how labour relations work in this province which is ironic since they’ve been bragging about being around since 1981.

This was part of my testimony in mid-March at the B.C. Labour Relations Board. This was an important story to tell because, while not all my colleagues have chosen to speak out of fear of retribution, I hope all of them recognize we are dealing with an employer that has made it very clear their main goal is to wipe out our jobs.

They tried late last year with those layoff notices and we stopped them once. They’re trying again now but they want to pin it on the union because it gives them a scapegoat. We are not being fooled, and I don’t think the public is being fooled either.

We are not making massive demands. We understand, given the pandemic and the changing nature of this industry, that times are tough. But if you take the Kelowna out of Kelowna Cabs, then they are just another company with no local connections and that contribute nothing but take up space on our roads and siphon money out of our community.

Kelowna is a city that recognizes the importance of the people who live here and work here. We need local jobs to sustain our community. Our union has already gone as far as offering Kelowna Cabs a limited time use of a call centre to get them through the pandemic. That offer was rejected. Instead, they demanded no restrictions on call centre usage.

A business that claims to be supportive of the community and of keeping jobs in the community would not have turned down that request. Their response? To lock us out of our jobs in the middle of a pandemic.

I want people to support Kelowna Cabs. I want the taxi industry to continue to play an important role in the transportation needs of people in this community. But if Kelowna Cabs does not want to support the community, starting with its own workers, then they don’t deserve the community’s support.

Please help us tell Kelowna Cabs to rescind their lockout and go back to the bargaining table and work on a fair deal that makes sense for Kelowna. You can find our petition at: https://www.change.org/p/kelowna-cabs-president-end-the-kelowna-cabs-lockout-of-workers

Eric Reite

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