Bhairavi Desai-led union helps Uber Driver win Employee Status & Unemployment Benefits in NY

New York – “Uber’s refusal to own up to its responsibilities as an employer is hurting drivers across the board as the company seeks to replace full-time jobs with unstable gig work and part time pay,” said Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “We are heartened that Jeffrey Shepherd has received his unemployment benefits and that the Unemployment
Jeffrey Shepherd, an Uber driver in New York found to be an employee by the New York State Department of Labor is possibly the first Uber driver in the country to receive unemployment benefits after he was forced to quit driving for Uber due to poverty wages. Jeffrey Shepherd sometimes brought home as little as a penny in a workweek, after Uber deducted its fees and leasing expenses from his paycheck.
“Uber promised that I could make a good living driving for them. But they took car payments straight out of my paycheck so that sometimes after working seven days a week, I was left with pennies in income,” said former Uber driver Jeffrey Shepherd. “My car was repossessed because eventually I didn’t even make enough money working for Uber to make my leasing payments. At 54 years old, it’s humiliating to have to depend on my 76-year-old father for support, but for a long time I didn’t have the money to buy food, pay my bills, or even to pay for gas to drive to a job interview. I’m still struggling to dig myself out of the hole of poverty I fell into working for Uber, but I am thankful to finally receive unemployment benefits. I’m speaking out now so that no one else has to go through what I did.”
Shepherd is the third Uber driver to be declared an employee by the New York Department of Labor for the purposes of unemployment – which has the narrowest threshold for employee status. In June, the Brooklyn Legal Services filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the two other drivers, Jakir Hossain and Levon Aleksanian, and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance against Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Department of Labor for not processing Unemployment claims by Uber drivers. In October, NYTWA announced that the two driver plaintiffs in the suit were determined to be employees of Uber.
In one email cited in the federal complaint a Department of Labor employee wrote, “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.” The email was, according to The New York Times, “hinting at possible intervention by the governor’s office.”
“Appeals Board has consolidated the three unemployment cases,” Desai said. “We will keep fighting against Uber as long as it continues to treat workers as disposable. We know that Uber wants to replicate this model of exploitation and poverty pay across New York State and indeed the entire world. The company has a pattern of skirting labor laws and, when that fails, trying to change the laws themselves. We will continue to fight at every step of the way Uber and its lackeys continue their assault on workers’ rights by attempting to deregulate taxi services and destroy labor protections in our state.”
Founded in 1998, NYTWA is the 19,000-member strong union of NYC taxicab drivers, representing yellow cab drivers, green car, and black car drivers, including drivers for Uber and Lyft.  We fight for justice, rights, respect and dignity for the over 50,000 licensed men and women who often labor 12 hour shifts with little pay and few protections in the city’s mobile sweatshop.  Our members come from every community, garage, and neighborhood. To find out more visit NYTWA.org or like us on facebook.com/nytwa.

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