September 18, 2015
By Steven Wishnia
Outraged that a driver was beaten by a dispatcher for handing out union leaflets, cabbies at Kennedy Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 16 blocked exits to the main taxi lot and stopped yellow-cab service at the airport for more than an hour.
Iqbal Singh, 43, says that at around 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon, he was in the airport’s central hold lot—where yellow cabs wait on line to be dispatched to pick up passengers leaving the various terminals—handing out flyers for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s demonstration the next day outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office.
The dispatch supervisor, he says, told him to leave. He was walking out of the lot, he adds, when he was hit in the back of the neck. He turned around, and the supervisor “punched me in the face. All over I am bleeding.”
Singh called it a “gang assault.” “Two dispatchers held me while the third one hit me,” he told LaborPress. He says the dispatchers told him not to call police, but to wash his face and go home. When Port Authority police arrived, they arrested him for assault.
In response, the more than 400 drivers waiting in the lot refused to leave until Garraway was arrested. “I told them, ‘If you don’t arrest him, we’re not going to move,’” says cabbie Mohammad Azad. Some sat down in front of the exit to prevent anyone else from leaving. After more than an hour, police arrested the supervisor, Orin Garraway.
Both Singh and Garraway were charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, and given desk appearance tickets, said Port Authority police spokesperson Joseph Pentangelo. Garraway, 58, works for Gateway Group One, the private contractor that handles cab dispatching at Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark airports.
At the Manhattan rally, Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called Singh “a true working-class hero,” saying that the drivers had “sat down in front of that lot to keep any car from moving,” despite the arrival of police in riot gear with dogs and tow trucks. Behind the stage, driver Jazz Singh showed cell-phone photos of Iqbal Singh with his face and shirt covered with blood, Garraway being arrested with a bit of Singh’s blood staining his white shirt, and the two lime-vested dispatchers who allegedly held Singh.
Taxi Workers Alliance activist Beresford Simmons told the crowd that the two dispatchers had been fired. An official at Gateway told LaborPress that there is “no information that I have to share.”
Gateway, which also handles security at the three airports, won the Port Authority’s “Contractor of the Year” award three times between 2006 and 2009. But dispatchers working for the company have been charged with taking bribes from drivers twice in the last two years. In August, seven dispatchers at LaGuardia were accused of taking bribes, usually $10, for giving drivers fraudulent “shorty tickets.” These tickets, which are supposed to be given only when drivers get fares that aren’t going very far from the airport, allow drivers to skip waiting in the hold lot when they come back—which can be for two or three hours—and go directly to airline terminals to pick up their next fare. In March 2014, 16 dispatchers at LaGuardia and Kennedy were charged with the same scam.
Singh, who lives in Queens with his wife and two children, has been driving for 25 years and owns a medallion. “I am a family man. My record is clean. In twenty-five years, I never refused no one,” he says. The supervisor who assaulted him has a bad reputation for “writing hundreds of summonses” and yelling at drivers, he added, and “if he’s going to hurt me, he’s going to hurt someone else.”