Uber and Lyft Drivers Sue for New York Unemployment Benefits

Doh Ouattara drove for Uber and Lyft from 2016 till mid-March of this 12 months, when he grew to become involved concerning the pandemic. With three kids beneath 6 to offer for, he determined to use for unemployment advantages.

But regardless of a whole lot of calls to the New York State Department of Labor and two outstanding state rulings that deemed gig employees like him to be staff eligible for advantages, he has but to obtain any fee, and time is working quick.

Mr. Ouattara, who was educated as an accountant within the Ivory Coast earlier than transferring to the United States, might afford to pay solely half his hire in April and none of it this month. “My savings are almost gone — I’ve used them for food, basic necessities,” he stated in an interview. “It is getting very, very stressful.”

On Monday, Mr. Ouattara and three different Uber and Lyft drivers, together with an advocacy group known as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, filed a grievance in federal courtroom in opposition to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state’s Department of Labor, saying the state illegally did not pay advantages to drivers in a well timed method.

“The issue of Uber driver employment status has been settled for over a year by the state’s own decision,” said Zubin Soleimany, a lawyer for the taxi workers group. “But it hasn’t been able to provide people benefits when they need them. It’s been a catastrophe for these guys.”

Jack Sterne, a spokesman for the Cuomo administration, said, “During this pandemic emergency, we have been moving heaven and earth to get every single unemployed New Yorker their benefits as quickly as possible — including Uber and Lyft drivers.”

According to the lawsuit, a key problem is that the state has not forced companies like Uber and Lyft to provide the data on workers’ earnings that employers must typically supply. Lacking such data, the suit says, the state has required drivers to complete a lengthy application process that involves more steps and paperwork than other workers face to receive unemployment benefits.

Lyft said the company was working with the state to provide access to earnings data. “The special interests behind this lawsuit aren’t interested in what’s best for drivers, since filing this lawsuit will do nothing to help them get assistance quickly,” said Julie Wood, a Lyft spokeswoman.

Lyft said that pandemic assistance was a better deal for many part-time drivers, because the minimum payment under that program was higher than the minimum unemployment benefit.

But for full-time drivers, pandemic assistance can be a weak substitute for traditional unemployment benefits. The complaint calculates that Mr. Ouattara’s benefit under the pandemic assistance program would be less than $250 per week, compared with $504 that he would receive in unemployment benefits.

The difference arises because pandemic assistance is based on income net of expenses like gas and maintenance, whereas unemployment benefits are based on gross earnings — or about $26,000 versus about $55,500 for Mr. Ouattara in 2019. Other drivers face similar disparities, according to the complaint.

Mr. Ouattara said he received a notice from the state this month indicating it had no record of earnings for him from Uber or Lyft. After he sent the state his documentation, he said, it urged him to apply for pandemic assistance. He did so, but continues to pursue traditional unemployment benefits as well. A second plaintiff in the case received a notice last week saying he was approved for pandemic assistance, but he continues to press for conventional unemployment benefits.

Other drivers who believe they are employees have sought traditional unemployment benefits rather than pandemic assistance as well, but have encountered problems similar to those of Mr. Ouattara and his fellow plaintiffs.

Carole Vigne, a staff attorney for the nonprofit Legal Aid at Work, said she had represented Uber and Lyft drivers during the pandemic who received traditional unemployment benefits in California in about six weeks. But she said that some of her clients there were still waiting for benefits they applied for more than two months ago, and that some had been routed to the pandemic assistance program with no explanation, despite intending to apply for traditional benefits.

Crystal Page, a spokeswoman for California’s labor agency, said in an email, “There are a number of different scenarios that apply to ALL benefit claims which could determine how quickly a claim can get processed and paid if the individual is eligible.”

The lawsuit by Mr. Soleimany’s group argues that by failing to pay drivers their unemployment benefits in a timely way, the state is violating the “when due” provision of the federal Social Security Act, which requires states to ensure the full payment of benefits “with the greatest promptness that is administratively feasible.”

The suit further argues that the state is violating the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by typically paying employees who are not drivers their benefits on a two-to-three-week timetable, but taking months to pay app-based drivers.

Source link Nytimes.com

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