Hello and a very Happy New Year to all! It’s hard to believe that another year is in the books and we’re now kicking off a new decade. I hope everybody enjoyed the holiday season and had the opportunity to spend time with friends and loved ones. As we begin 2020, there is a lot I have to talk to you about, so let me jump right into it.

January 2020 marks the date that California’s landmark independent contractor legislation, AB5, is supposed to go into effect. However, with all the legal challenges it faces, many questions still surround it. Despite this, many other states are looking to follow in California’s footsteps and pass similar legislation. New York is one of those States.

Earlier this month, Assembly member Marcos Crespo, Chair of the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Labor held a hearing on the gig economy that focused on addressing the same labor concerns that spurred California’s AB5. Many labor unions are pushing for a bill similar to AB5, claiming that reclassifying gig workers as employees would extend to them employee benefits such as overtime, unemployment insurance and paid leave.

Opponents, however, argue that reclassification would ultimately result in them losing the flexibility that comes with gig work, along with raising costs and stifling innovation for companies. During the hearing, Assemblyman Crespo criticized California’s legislation for carving out so many exemptions, which has caused it to be opened up to legal challenges. He stressed that any legislation New York considers must be done while taking a hard look at its language and clarity.

There was also a strong feeling at the hearing that there now exists an opportunity for New York to expand benefits and protections to gig workers while maintaining the flexibility of gig work, which could be done without reclassifying independent contractors as employees. I strongly believe that this is where The Black Car Fund comes in.

Our one-of-a-kind model for providing portable benefits to independent contractors has been working incredibly well for the past 20 years in New York. More importantly, our model can be applied to many industries beyond for-hire vehicle drivers and can also be expanded in a scalable and affordable manner to provide other health related benefits.

This is exactly what we’ve been able to do. In our 20 years of operation, we have had just ONE rate increase from two to two and a half percent. At the same time, we have added numerous health related benefits such as vision, telemedicine, mental health, accidental death benefits and more. The success and viability of our model was echoed by many organizations that testified at the hearing. They pointed to the work we have been doing and the benefits we have been able to provide through the passenger surcharge model. Ultimately, it seems likely that the State Legislature will act on this issue in the upcoming session, but what form it takes remains to be seen.

On that note, the end of the year was particularly exciting for The Black Car Fund as Governor Cuomo finally signed the legislation which formally expands the authority of The Black Car Fund to continue providing our additional health related benefits, beyond Workers’ Compensation. Thanks to this important legislation, over 130,000 drivers throughout New York will keep having access to the many benefits provided by The Black Car Fund; benefits which independent for-hire vehicle drivers don’t have anywhere else in the United States! Going forward, we are excited to begin looking at additional benefits we can add to continue supporting and protecting black car drivers in New York.

Speaking of additional benefits, we are looking forward to the upcoming launch of our Safety Advancement for Excellence in Driving (S.A.F.E. iD) Pilot Program. The program will be using telematics technology, in the form of dashboard cameras and on-board devices (OBD) to keep drivers connected with The Black Car Fund for Workers’ Compensation purposes and help you to take steps towards becoming one of the safest Drivers in the industry. Your safety is always our number one concern, and as an active participant in this new program, we will have you covered better than ever before.

In the unfortunate event that you are involved in an accident on the job, the S.A.F.E. iD device will notify us immediately and help start the claims process immediately! There are also many more perks that the program offers! You will have the ability to see your driving statistics, receive tips on the areas in which you can improve your driving, participate in fun program challenges and even earn rewards for your accomplishments. Also, the first Drivers that register for the program will receive a large bundle of exclusive S.A.F.E. iD branded safety gear for you and your vehicle!

There are a limited number of spots available in this pilot program, so don’t wait! Visit www.nybcf.org/safeidnow to sign up to learn more and be the first to hear when the program launches in the coming weeks. And be sure to spread the word to your fellow Drivers.

In closing, may the New Year bring you and your loved ones, health, happiness and prosperity. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions or would like to learn more about The Black Car Fund and the benefits we offer to black car drivers throughout New York. Until next time!

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Article by Ira Goldstein

Ira Goldstein is Executive Director of the New York Black Car Fund, Chief Operating Officer of the Black Car Assistance Corporation and Treasurer of the Coalition of Transportation Associations.

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