Coventry chief executive Hanif Patni said the unexpected attack on the building, located at 455 Coventry Rd., has shut down the city’s taxi dispatch system leaving the city’s fleets flying blind. The vandalism occurred on a planned “Day of Action” by Unifor, the union representing airport taxi drivers who are currently in a dispute with the company over airport pick-up fees.
According to Coventry staff who were in the building at the time, a female staff member was lured outside at around 7:30 a.m. When she opened the door, staff said a group of about 50 people stormed into the building. The protesters told everyone to leave and those who wouldn’t were pushed out, according to the employees.
Unifor president Jerry Dias said that the shutdown of the dispatch system was planned but the union didn’t condone violence. Dias said union members “asked dispatchers” to leave so they could “attract attention” by shutting down dispatch. Dias said he knew nothing of about the covering cameras, alleged assault or apparent storming of the building.
“Desperate people do desperate things,” Dias said. “And when you inflict that type of economic harm on 250 families, people get desperate.”
Two people complained of minor injuries, according to Coventry staff.
Patni said the attack was disappointing as the dispatcher had been in negotiations with the taxi driver’s union, Unifor, late into the night. The two sides appeared to find a compromise to end a three-month old labour dispute over a new contract with the Ottawa International Airport that has seen fees for picking up fares increased and removed the exclusivity that Airport Taxi branded cabs have had over collecting passengers at the airport.
Patni said the two sides had reached an agreement that both appeared to be comfortable with, however Friday morning’s “fire and violence approach” to the dispute has now put that in danger.
“You can’t go in and start destroying property,” said Patni. “This is thuggish behaviour.”
The damage has left about 200 drivers for the airport fleet and 2,000 Blue Line drivers without dispatchers.
A Citizen call to Blue Line’s main number couldn’t get past a recorded message promising to answer soon.
Dias said plans to conduct a protest at city hall were abandoned. The union had promised a massive protest in the city’s core Friday over the ongoing labour dispute.
On Thursday, Dias promised that Friday’s protest would get heated and emotional. He said on Friday morning that taxi drivers would continue to protest outside Coventry Connections until an agreement is reached.
Standing in the back of a truck, Dias yelled that the union apologizes to anyone whose daily routines have been impacted by the taxi labour dispute.
“Put yourself in the situation of one of these 250 families,” Dias said.
Dias said the union’s pleas for a fair deal have fallen on deaf ears so they decided to take matters into their own hands and stage another protest. Dias said the protestors will be outside Coventry Connections for the long-term.
“Today’s rally is all about respect,” Dias said.
Dias said Unifor planned to bring in busloads of people from Ontario and Quebec to protest what he says is a situation that is completely out of control.
During Thursday afternoon’s rush hour, Airport Taxi drivers staged a surprise two-hour demonstration that began about 3:30 p.m. with the unionized drivers deliberately driving slowly and tying up traffic behind them as they proceeded southbound from the Airport Parkway to Bronson Avenue.
By 4 p.m. they had blocked Bronson at Sunnyside Avenue. That caused a massive traffic back-up that blocked the entrance to Carleton University. The situation was made worse with some placard-waving drivers walking on the road beside the taxis, further impeding traffic.
“We are not going anywhere!” drivers posted on their union’s Twitter site. “Rain or not! We are here to stay!”
Dias said Thursday’s protest was in response to the meeting with Coventry Connections. To end the labour action, the union made a proposal to Coventry Connections to abandon the open-market concept that allows any driver to pick up fares at the airport as long as they agree to pay the fee.