NYTWA Hero Uncovers Political Cover for Uber.
If you were terminated by Uber or applied for Unemployment Insurance but still haven’t heard back, call the union office718-706-9892 or hit reply to this email.
In New York State, ex-Uber drivers stuck in unemployment limbo
Cuomo’s labor department hasn’t made a decision on benefits
It is a tenet of labor relations in New York State: lose your job, apply for unemployment benefits, and the state will render a verdict – in a reasonable period of time – on whether you will receive financial assistance.
That basic agreement between New York workers and New York’s government has been upended by the state’s inability to figure out what to do about Uber, even as the state is considering legalizing its operations statewide.
For the purposes of unemployment insurance, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s labor department, apparently unwilling to take a side in the heavily politicized debate over whether Uber drivers are employees or independent contractors, has decided not to make a decision at all. At least for the time being.
A former Uber driver who applied for unemployment compensation late last year received an email from a labor department representative on Feb. 10saying, “The information we are being given is these claims (not just yours) are under executive review, which means the Dept of Labor is not making the decision whether or not this employment is covered. Your claim will remain pending until such time as a determination has been made.”
Department of Labor spokeswoman Tiffany Portzer said the agency is “examining whether to classify drivers for car sharing companies as employees or independent contractors, an issue that other states are examining as well.”
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi denied that “executive review,” the phrase used in the email to the former Uber driver, meant that the governor’s office was weighing in on those policy deliberations.
“Like I said, it’s a labor issue,” he emailed. “They’re sorting it out.”
Whatever precisely is happening, it is unusual, according to labor law experts.
“The fact that in New York there’s some kind of a hold is very strange and unprecedented in my experience,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, the National Employment Law Project’s general counsel.
“I have never in all of the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen this ever happen to anyone,” said Nicole Salk, a Brooklyn Legal Services attorney who began representing the former Uber driver, after a referral from the Taxi Workers Alliance.
It was in September of last year that the onetime Uber driver, Levon Aleksanian, realized that he could no longer drive for Uber because he had accrued too many points on his for-hire license and it had been revoked.
He had been driving for Uber for more than a year.
Like many New Yorkers who find themselves out of a job, Aleksanian promptly applied for unemployment insurance.
A 30-year-old immigrant from Georgia, Aleksanian was apparently not trying to make a political point about the nature of the sharing economy or the role of a gig worker.
Uber operates largely as a black car company in New York City, and black car drivers do often qualify as “employees” for unemployment insurance purposes.
“It’s true taxi drivers are usually independent contractors,” said Salk. “But black car drivers are usually not. It is a case-by-case determination.”
Salk said that had the labor department determined Aleksanian was entitled to unemployment insurance, he likely would have been eligible for $425 a week. And that either way, he deserved a determination, Salk said.
An Uber spokesman said the company does not pay into unemployment insurance in New York State, because “unemployment is for employees, and [independent contractors] are not employees.”
Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the Taxi Workers Alliance, described New York State’s approach as “unjust”
Other states have taken a different tack.
“We do know that the California employment development department has made some determinations that Uber drivers are employees for purpose of employee insurance law,” said Ruckelshaus. “But it’s on a one-off basis.”
In October, Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries released an advisory opinion on the employment status of Uber drivers.
Because Uber “permits drivers to work for the company’s benefit” and “drivers are economically dependent on Uber,” Oregon labor commissioner Brad Avakian found that under Oregon law, “Uber drivers are employees.”
NO MORE POLITICAL FAVOR FOR COMPANIES THAT CHEAT DRIVERS!
The last days of session in Albany are coming near. Some reports say Thursday and others say into the weekend. Keep up the pressure until the final hours to stop State Senators and Assembly Members from passing a bill to give Uber, Lyf and other App-based car services the right to dispatch to private motorists with personal cars!
The Senate Insurance Committee has already passed the bill Uber wants. The Assembly has not voted the bill to the next committee. But it’s not over until the session ends!
MAKE SOME NOISE! Call the Assembly and Senate today!