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Uber and Lyft Drivers sue for New York unemployment benefits

Doh Ouattara ran for Uber and Lyft from 2016 until mid-March this year, when he became worried about the pandemic. With three children under the age of 6, he decided to apply for unemployment benefits.

But despite hundreds of calls to the New York State Department of Labor and two prominent decisions that considered gig workers like him to be eligible for state unemployment insurance, he has yet to receive any pay and time is running out.

Ouattara, who was trained as an accountant in the Ivory Coast before moving to the United States, could afford to pay only half of the rent in April and none of it this month. “My savings are almost gone – I’ve used them for food, basic necessities,” he said in an interview. “It’s going to be very, very stressful.”

On Monday, Ouattara and three other drivers in Uber and Lyft, along with a advocacy group called the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, filed a complaint in federal court against statesman Andrew M. Cuomo and the state Department of Labor. did not pay standard benefits to which they were entitled in due time.

The lawsuit says drivers must wait months to receive standard unemployment benefits, if they receive them at all, compared to the two to three weeks the state have said is typical of other workers. The complainants request an injunction requiring the state to immediately pay its benefits and the benefits of other drivers they owe.

“The issue of Uber drivers employment status has been determined for over a year by the state’s own decision,” said Zubin Soleimany, attorney for the taxi workers group. “But it has not been able to give people benefits when they need them. It has been a disaster for these guys.”

Jack Sterne, spokesman for the Cuomo administration, said: “During this pandemic emergency, we have moved heaven and earth to get every unemployed New Yorker’s benefits as quickly as possible – including Uber and Lyft drivers, who are not treated differently than anyone else. another worker. “

According to the lawsuit, an important problem is that the state has not forced companies like Uber and Lyft to provide information on workers’ incomes that employers usually have to provide. Lacking such information, the suit says, the state has required drivers to complete a lengthy application process that involves more steps and paperwork than other workers face in order to receive standard unemployment benefits.

Josh Gold, an Uber spokesman, said the company had provided the state with the revenue data it had requested, but he refused to elaborate on whether the data would be sufficient to quickly calculate unemployment benefits. Company said in April that it had agreed to comply with a government request for income data, but that it had not yet done so.

Lyft said the company partnered with the state to provide access to revenue data. “The special interests behind this sentiment are not interested in what is best for drivers, because filing this sentiment will do nothing to help them get help quickly,” said Julie Wood, spokeswoman for Lyft.

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

But for full-time drivers, pandemic assistance can be a weak compensation for traditional unemployment benefits. The complaint estimates that Ouattara’s benefits under the pandemic program would be less than $ 250 a week, compared to the $ 504 he would receive in unemployment benefits. (He and other drivers would receive a $ 600 federal grant a week on top of both programs by the end of July.)

The difference arises because pandemic assistance is based on income excluding expenses such as gas and maintenance, while unemployment benefits are based on gross income – or about $ 26,000 versus about $ 55,500 for Mr. Ouattara 2019. Other drivers are facing similar differences, according to the complaint.

Ouattara said he received a statement from the state this month indicating that it had no results for him from Uber or Lyft. After he sent the state his documentation, he said, he urged him to apply for pandemic assistance. He did, but also continues with traditional unemployment benefits. A second complainant in the case received a statement last week saying he was approved for pandemic support, but he continues to push for conventional unemployment benefits.

Other drivers who think they are employed have also sought traditional unemployment benefits rather than pandemic assistance, but have encountered similar problems as Mr Ouattara and his colleagues.

Carole Vigne, a staff attorney for non-profit legal help at work, said she had represented Uber and Lyft drivers during the pandemic that received traditional unemployment benefits in California in about six weeks. But she said some of her clients there were still waiting for benefits that they applied for more than two months ago, and that some had been directed to the pandemic program without explanation, even though they had intended to apply for traditional benefits.

Crystal Page, a spokeswoman for the California Labor Bureau, said in an email, “There are a number of different scenarios that apply to ALL compensation claims that can determine how quickly a claim can be processed and paid if the individual is eligible.”

The lawsuit from Soleimany’s group argues that the state does not break out standard unemployment benefits to drivers in a timely manner, violating the state “as regards” the provision of the federal Social Security Act, which requires states to ensure full payment of benefits “With the greatest speed that is administratively feasible. “

The lawsuit further argues that the state violates the equal protection clause in the US Constitution by usually paying employees who do not run their standard benefits on a two to three week schedule, but take months to pay app-based drivers.

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