Taking Its Toll

Labor STRIFE, racial tension and a "disadvantaged" owner who drives a Mercedes: between the lines of DIA's controversial parking contract.

The city dumped its contract with the Barry-Gayles-Clark team after the terms became public. But shortly after, Clark formed his own company--Front Range Parking--and again entered into a joint venture with Parking Company of America, which operates several parking concessions at airports around the country. That venture--known as Colorado Parking Company--won the final contract at the end of 1993.

The city's request for proposals for the parking concession made it clear that a minority partner, known as a disadvantaged business enterprise, must be part of the venture and receive at least 30 percent of total revenues. The qualifications for a minority partner listed in the call for proposals would apply to almost any businessperson, requiring "proof of three years business management experience with responsibility for scheduling personnel, handling cash and making bank deposits, record keeping and other similar types of responsibilities as manager or owner of a business."

The administration's interest in airport parking contracts aroused the interest of the FBI, which interviewed Trommeter last spring as part of an ongoing federal grand jury investigation of possible improprieties at DIA. Trommeter says federal agents asked him detailed questions about the history of airport concession contracting. However, Barry, Gayles and Clark have not been accused of wrongdoing with regard to the parking contract, and Clark says the FBI has never contacted him.

Clark is well-known in the local black business community but insists he is not a close friend of the mayor's. "I do not know the Webbs well," he says. "I've never been to their home or anything like that." Clark did, however, accompany the Webbs on an eight-day tour of Ethiopia last fall. That tour was organized by Daniel Yohannes, president of Colorado National Bank, and included several other prominent Coloradans. Clark also contributed $500 to the mayor's re-election campaign.

Despite the administration's fervent efforts to make sure minorities got a fair piece of the parking contract, minority employees have been unhappy there almost from the start. No single event better represented the state of affairs at Colorado Parking than the December arrest of Santa Claus and his elf at the toll plaza. "I was an elf and union president Rick Hall was Santa," Portillo says.

Company managers weren't in much of a holiday spirit, though, and promptly called the police. Portillo and Hall were arrested and charged with interfering with traffic. But Portillo says the stunt impressed many of the employees at the toll booths.

"It gave the workers confidence they could get in the bosses' face," he says. "We were waving to one another from the police car. We were seeing a lot of thumbs up from the booths."

Clark's partner in Colorado Parking, Parking Company of America, insists the union has maligned the company. "We strive to treat our employees with respect," says Susan Chavez. "Nothing is done arbitrarily. We have policies and procedures in place that are followed. We realize our employees are the backbone of the company."

Chavez says that many of the problems with the DIA parking concession stem from the difficulty in opening a new facility. "I feel it's unfortunate Local 105 chose to target a company just beginning a new operation," she says. "They've spread false stories about us."

Last week, Chavez adds, the union and the company agreed to drop all legal charges against each other in preparation for contract negotiations. As a result, the NLRB has canceled a planned hearing on whether Colorado Parking violated federal labor laws.

DIA officials emphasize that Colorado Parking's labor problems are a private matter that they have no control over. And they say they believe Colorado Parking has become more efficient since the chaotic days after DIA opened. "When an operation is turned over to a new operator, there's a learning curve," says parking director Harris. "I think any operator would go through that."

DeLong says the city still hasn't decided whether or not to extend Colorado Parking's contract when it runs out at the end of the year. "We're not out to destroy anybody," he says. "It's a little early to speculate."

Bargaining on the first union contract begins this week. And the city's willingness to rehire the company may hinge on whether Colorado Parking reaches an accommodation with Local 105. With Webb and most of the city council avowedly pro-labor, the city might be uncomfortable doing business with a company that can't get a contract signed with its employees.

As for Colorado Parking's beleaguered workers, they're hoping their new contract will finally make DIA's toll plaza and parking garages a more pleasant place to work. But Tony Brown predicts that smoothing over past tensions won't be easy. "A lot of people have been scared to speak up because they think they'll lose their jobs," says Brown. "There's been a huge separation between management and employees, and there's still a lot of animosity.

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