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Although the Black Car Fund was created in 1999 to provide workers’ compensation and other benefits to black car operators in New York State, the organization has since added a long list of additional benefits – including 24/7 telemedicine, vision coverage, dental insurance, a mental health and wellness program created through a partnership with the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), safety education, and discounts on prescriptions, urgent care and diagnostic imaging. Affiliated drivers risked losing many of those benefits, if legislation was not passed protecting them.
After many months of working with New York State legislators, convincing them that losing these benefits would strike a terrible blow to struggling drivers, a bill finally passed the house and senate on May 24, and ended up on Governor Hochul’s desk. It is expected to be passed with a three-year extension.
The Black Car Fund derives its income from a passenger surcharge added to each trip fare, collected by Member Bases from clients. In 2019, legislation was passed allowing the Black Car Fund to continue making improvements to its driver services without being constrained to solely providing workers’ compensation. This authority allowed the Black Car Fund to continue vision and telemedicine programs. The law amended the NYS Executive Law to add .5% to the Black Car Fund surcharge for additional health benefits for a period of three years. The legislation was set to expire at the end of 2022, but on March 14, 2022, Senator Diane J. Savino of Staten Island introduced legislation (S8568), the senate version of bill A9619, which was introduced by Assemblymember Catalina Cruz. S8568 seeks to amend the law to provide a three-year extension of the .5% increase in surcharge and continue the enhanced additional driver benefits. The extender ensures these benefits continue uninterrupted.
For several years, the media has highlighted the difficult lives drivers and their families lead, and this legislation protects the interest of these drivers by offering workers’ compensation insurance, along with a vast menu of additional benefits.
During an interview with City & State – as part of the media outlet’s Political Personalities with Skye Series program – Ira Goldstein, Executive Director of The Fund visited the Black Car Safety Center, where drivers are paid $300 to attend defensive driver courses. Wellness classes are also offered, along with instruction on CPR and tips on nutrition and health.
An opinion piece that ran in the New York Daily News in May, titled “Care About Drivers? Build on the Black Car Fund,” was co-authored by Goldstein and Brendan Sexton, Executive Director of the IDG. The article noted that “One of the groups hit the hardest by the pandemic are our for-hire drivers, as vehicle trips in New York are still down 28% since the beginning of the pandemic. Unlike other independent workers though, drivers here have free access to workers’ compensation insurance and health-related benefits such as telemedicine coverage, vision coverage, dental insurance, mental health, as well as prescription, urgent care and diagnostic imaging discounts.
“The pandemic highlighted the effectiveness of the initiatives and resources made possible by the fund. Drivers were able to stay healthy and stay afloat despite working on the front lines and suffering through an economic crisis. The Black Car Fund and the Independent Drivers Guild partnered to provide approximately 20,000 masks and 4,000 test kits, as well as many thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and gloves.
“Even as ridership dipped through the worst of COVID, the resilient model created by the Black Car Fund not only continued to provide benefits to drivers, but it also allowed the Fund to expand its services, at no cost to the driver. New York’s recovery from COVID-19 offers the state an opportunity to shape the future of our economy and how workers are protected. The pandemic laid bare the inequities that so many New Yorkers deal with on a daily basis, and we must take steps to make sure New York remains a city where everyone cannot just get by, but they can live a full and healthy life without fear that an economic downturn, injury or other unexpected turns of fate will lead to financial ruin.”
Sources: The New York Daily News, The New York Black Car Fund