Uber and Lyft Drivers Win Ruling on Unemployment Benefits-American Taxi Cab of Augusta
If you are a Taxi Cab driver working for say American Taxi Cab of Augusta, there is tendency that your income driving Cabs has significantly dropped due to pandemic(COVID19) and you are one of those getting unemployment benefit from federal government. You may be lucky to be in a state where your request was processed without stress. This is not same for thousands of gig workers working as Uber and Lyft drivers in some states like New York.
A federal judge’s decision in New York is a key victory in efforts to secure the protections extended to other workers.A lawsuit asserted that New York State was taking months to pay traditional unemployment benefits to Uber and Lyft drivers, compared with two to three weeks for other workers. Drivers for Uber and Lyft won a key victory on Tuesday in their continuing effort to be treated like other workers when a federal judge in New York ruled that the state must promptly begin paying them unemployment benefits. Many drivers have waged a long legal and political battle with the companies over their employment status. Uber and Lyft have maintained that drivers are independent contractors who are not entitled to standard employment protections, such as a minimum wage, overtime pay and unemployment insurance.
The companies have gone to elaborate lengths to prosecute this argument, including spending tens of millions of dollars on a ballot measure that would exempt their drivers from a California law that effectively classifies them as employees. In her ruling, Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall appeared to come down firmly on the side of drivers in this broader debate, citing “an avoidable and inexcusable delay in the payment of unemployment insurance.” The ruling resulted from a lawsuit filed in late May by drivers and an advocacy group called the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, who argued that the state was taking months to pay unemployed drivers while typically processing benefits for other workers in two to three weeks.
Although the lawsuit was filed against the state rather than Uber and Lyft, the judge called out the companies for extensive delay tactics that had made it difficult for drivers to receive the benefits they are owed.
Under the ruling, the state Department of Labor has seven days to convene and train a “work group” of several dozen staff members who will identify backlogged claims by drivers who have sought “reconsideration” after being told that they were ineligible, and take the necessary steps to pay them promptly. The state has 45 days to resolve this backlog.Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the taxi workers’ group, said thousands of drivers were in this position. The judge gave the state 14 days to report back on the number.
Going forward, the Department of Labor must perform weekly queries to identify eligible claims by drivers who are currently denied prompt payment of their benefits so they can receive them quickly.The issue has become especially urgent during the pandemic, as the incomes of thousands of drivers have collapsed.
In late March, Congress approved the so-called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to replace income for workers like contractors, who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment benefits. New York State and the ride-hailing companies have encouraged drivers to apply for this assistance.
But the new pandemic assistance program is typically far less generous than traditional insurance for full-time drivers, of which there are tens of thousands in New York. Previous rulings in the state had entitled drivers to traditional insurance.Central to the case before Judge DeArcy Hall is data on driver earnings that would make it possible for the state to process unemployment benefits quickly.
Without the earnings data that employers typically provide the state’s Department of Labor, drivers receive a statement saying that they have no earnings on file regarding their work for Uber and Lyft, forcing them into a bureaucratic process to demonstrate their eligibility for traditional benefits that can last months.The ruling sheds light on the scale at which the companies employed this tactic, noting that there were about 294 cases in which the state had found Uber to be an employer and that the company had appealed 227 of them, only to abandon more than 200 of the appeals. There were about 78 instances in which the state deemed Lyft to be an employer, and the company abandoned nine of its 11 appeals, according to the ruling.