Bhairavi Desai-led New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Uber Drivers win employee status

New York – For the first time in New York State, Uber drivers have been determined to be employees. Uber does not contribute to unemployment benefit funds or guarantee a minimum wage for drivers because the company insists that its drivers are independent contractors. Now, the New York State Department of Labor has for the first time determined that two drivers who filed for unemployment were in fact employed by Uber.

“This is a significant victory for Uber drivers, and a game changer for all drivers in a race to the bottom due to Uber’s economic policies,” said Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance which was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Uber is lowering the standards for all drivers across the industry and the outcome of this fight will, in many ways, determine the future of the industry. That’s why it’s so important to hold Uber accountable. We’re calling on the Department of Labor to conduct a full audit of Uber and make a determination consistant with labor law that all drivers are employees. We will keep fighting until we win employee status for all Uber drivers and all of the legal and economic protections for workers that correspond with employee status.”

The two unemployment determinations came after Brooklyn Legal Services (a program of Legal Services NYC) filed a federal lawsuit  on behalf of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and two Uber drivers, Jakir Hossain and Levon Aleksanian, complaining that the New York State Department of Labor was refusing to investigate claims for unemployment benefits by Uber drivers. Both Uber driver plaintiffs have been determined to be employees of Uber and one of them was determined to be an employee of both Uber and Lyft.

One plaintiff, Jakir Hossain, began to receive unemployment benefits last week after struggling to get by for nearly a year while waiting for his determination. Mr. Hossain was found to be an employee of both Uber and Lyft.

“Now that I have received unemployment benefits I can finally start to make ends meet again,” said plaintiff and former Uber driver Jakir Hossain. “For nearly a year, as the Department of Labor dragged its feet, I was so broke that I had to borrow money to pay my rent and I racked up credit card debt for the first time. After Uber deactivated me for having a 4.3 rating, I was no longer able to send money home to my family in Bangladesh and I couldn’t afford basic living expenses. I came to this country with the hope that if I worked hard enough, I could create a better future for myself. But my experience with Uber left me broken hearted about the American dream. Now that I see the strength we have when drivers work together with the support of our union, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, to fight for our rights, I have reason to hope again.”

This historic victory could have a profound impact on the business models of Uber and other app-based car service companies that “terminate” drivers at will and keep them at low pay without any protections to fall back on.

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

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