In his “State of the State” Address in January, Gov. Cuomo expressed grave concerns that “gig economy” workers in New York are underpaid and aren’t getting essential benefits, and he wants to solve this through legislation. Although it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable goal on the surface, his seemingly well-intentioned efforts could hurt tens of thousands of workers across the state.
Many of those workers – NYC Black Car and High-Volume For-Hire Vehicle (HVFHV) drivers – already receive an extensive package of benefits through the New York Black Car Fund, which was established in 1999, and has grown dramatically in scope over the years. The Fund offers drivers across the state access to free and discounted benefits through a small passenger surcharge; this includes medical, vision, dental, accident support, workers comp and paid safety classes.
Unfortunately, Mr. Cuomo doesn’t seem to be learning from the mistakes of others. He said he wants to mirror a sweeping law passed in California last year, known as AB5, which has had some pretty severe, unintended consequences – including the loss of hundreds of freelance jobs.
NYC drivers won’t be the only people affected. In California, independent contractor writers, artists, filmmakers, photographers, actors, yoga teachers, journalists and editors are among those complaining that AB5 is causing far more problems than it is solving. Many workers prefer the flexibility of independent contractor status.
According to a Jan. New York Posteditorial titled, “Cuomo doesn’t care who else gets hurt by his war on the gig economy,” nearly half of “gig” workers say they need freelance work because of “personal circumstances.” Alisha Grauso from the California Freelance Writers United also noted that freelancers are often likely to be disabled, working mothers or the elderly.
It would be disastrous if legislation obliterated all the good that The Black Car Fund has done, particularly in light of the fact that the state recently expanded The Fund’s ability to add more benefits. The Fund is actively working on improving and adding benefits for its drivers, some of which are expected to be introduced by the summer.
In the meantime, I would like to again recommend that drivers take advantage of all that The Fund has to offer. If you are a Black Car Fund driver that hasn’t already signed up for their free benefits and access to discount programs, please do so as soon as possible by calling (833) 814-8590 or visiting https://driversbenefits.org/activate-now/?utm_source=WB.
Port Authority Crackdown
Speaking of the Black Car Fund, its executive director Ira Goldstein recently met with officials at the Port Authority, who are planning to crack down on illegal activities by unlicensed drivers, dramatically increasing fines and making it more difficult to register vehicles if they have outstanding summonses. The PA’s new executive director, Rick Cotton, deserves credit for taking the time to meet with Mr. Goldstein, as well as representatives from all of the major industry organizations, including the Independent Drivers Guild, The Livery Roundtable and the Livery Base Owners association.
According to Mr. Goldstein, “[Mr. Cotton] seems genuinely interested in finding ways to improve service at the airports, and he’s listening to our input. He was agreeable when we asked for the upcoming fees to be lowered and he’s the person who greenlighted the new bathrooms and prayer areas for drivers at all New York Metro-area airports.”
Black Car & Livery Task Force
In other news, City Council has taken a step closer to creating a Black Car & Livery Task Force to “study challenges to the viability of the [traditional] black car and livery industries.” The task force, which would be composed of 11 members, would issue a report with recommendations to address the identified challenges.
It is my sincere hope that the industry is well represented, and that the Task Force is established sooner rather than later.
Doug Schifter Remembered
Before I sign off this month, I wanted to take a moment to remember my friend Doug Schifter, who tragically committed suicide on February 5, 2018. I still think about Doug almost daily and dearly miss his columns. So many of the things he predicted came true. I always enjoyed our conversations and learned a lot from him.
Doug was a genuinely decent man, who wanted nothing more than for his fellow drivers – his “brothers and sisters” – to get a fair shake and for the industry to return to its former self.
The second anniversary of Doug’s passing approaches as I type this. We are finally starting to see some positive changes in the industry, even as the turmoil continues. I just wish Doug was here to help us all sort it out.