Hello to all. The world has changed dramatically since last month. As I write this and think about the topics I covered last month, it shocks me to realize how different our reality was just 30 days ago. By the time you’re reading this, it’s a certainty that things will again be different. I have a lot to cover in this month’s column, so let me jump right into it.

The seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overstated. As you know, The Black Car Fund’s Covered Drivers and their immediate families receive free access to telemedicine. With this benefit, you and your immediate family can speak to a doctor for free, in your own language, by phone or secure online video, 24/7.

Telemedicine is particularly important at this time because it allows you to be “screened” for symptoms of coronavirus, without taking an unnecessary risk of being exposed or exposing others to the virus. Furthermore, it will help prevent overcrowding and depletion of resources at hospitals, doctors offices and emergency care centers.

I can’t say this strongly enough, if you haven’t already, please sign up with Drivers Benefits so that you and your families can access this right away! When all is said and done, telemedicine will prove to have been an invaluable front-line resource against COVID-19 and everyone is finally beginning to recognize how important it is.

To sign up for Drivers Benefits and begin using telemedicine right away, call 1-833-814-8590 or visit their website at www.driversbenefits.org. For additional information on how you can stay safe during COVID-19, Drivers Benefits has put together a list of helpful tips and information which you can view at www.driversbenefits.org/covid-19.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed the day-to-day operations for everyone. The majority of businesses in NYC have been shut down, but it’s important to know that the FHV industry has been deemed an “essential service” by Governor Cuomo and our companies and drivers are allowed to continue working. I know many drivers have been unsure about whether they could continue driving during this shutdown.

Another important thing to know is that the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings has suspended their rescheduling rule. Until further notice, all requests to reschedule hearings will be granted.

Also, the State Workers Compensation Board has announced that all hearings will be conducted remotely through Virtual Hearings. Virtual Hearings allow injured workers, representatives, witnesses and other participants to attend hearings online. Claimants appearing from home (or wherever safe and convenient) can appear either by video or telephone. We encourage you to learn more at www.wcb.ny.gov/virtual-hearings.

The TLC also announced a new partnership they are calling DeliveryTLC, and issued a call for TLC Licensed drivers who would be interested in helping with delivery work in the city. While the demand for drivers is currently small, they say they expect the demand to increase for meal delivery to senior citizens and other residents who are unable to leave their homes. The jobs pay $15/hour and drivers will also be reimbursed for gas mileage and tolls. Applications are being accepted on a first come first serve basis, so if you are interested, please consider signing up as soon as possible. You can do so by visiting www.nyc.gov/deliverytlc.

Some of you may also have heard that the City’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS) recently announced a program to provide relief for small businesses in NYC seeing a reduction in revenue. We have been strongly advocating for a change in the eligibility requirements so that this resource would be available to drivers as well.

Editor’s Note: Breaking! Thanks to the efforts of our industry’s leaders, unemployment benefits are coming for Independent Contractors!

(For important updates between now and May, periodically check the Black Car News website (www.blackcarnews.com) and follow Black Car News on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BlackCarNews/?ref=bookmarks). You can also get added to the Black Car News email blast list by typing your email address into a simple form at the bottom of the website home page and clicking “subscribe now.”)

Now, let me begin touching on some other recent news. At the start of March, I traveled to Albany to meet with state legislators on a variety of issues. I was joined by our Executive Chairman, Berj Haroutunian, as well as our Communications and External Affairs Specialist, Lionel Morales, and lastly, by lobbyists from the firm Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno, LLC.

Last month, I briefly discussed the language in Governor Cuomo’s budget that will tackle illegal airport hustling. There was unanimous support among the elected officials that we met with. The language allowing seizure of vehicles will likely be removed, but the stiff financial penalties and adjudication through the DMV will stay. We look forward to seeing this pass, along with the budget.

With regard to the “gig economy” issue, it was clear among the representatives that we met with that New York does not want to rush legislation through and make the same mistakes that California did. In political circles throughout New York, California’s AB5 and the debacles that have followed it are seen as an embarrassment. There was a strong feeling that this issue will not be addressed this session, unless the Governor chooses to push something to pass with the budget. It’s possible that the COVID-19 pandemic may spur some movement or a change of heart, so it’s something that we will have to continue monitoring.

Lastly, there were concerns with a sweeping Workers’ Compensation reform bill that was introduced by Assembly member Harry Bronson that would have significantly raised the costs of administering Workers Compensation. After meeting with him however, we learned that this bill is dead in the water and is not a priority for the legislature this session. Some sections of this bill have been split into smaller bills and are being carried by several representatives. However, these too are not a priority.

Overall, the meetings were exceedingly positive and we received some important takeaways. To begin with, it seems that most people know about The Black Car Fund and our unique model which allows us to provide full Workers Compensation coverage to black car drivers throughout New York. However, the extent of the additional benefits we provide aren’t as well known. When these benefits are explained, the response is always positive. Additionally, the legislation passed last year, which expanded The Black Car Fund’s authority to provide additional health benefits, was discussed with members and they were very impressed with the potential new driver benefits that we will be launching later this year. I look forward to announcing them soon.

That’s all for now. This truly is a scary and unprecedented time for our city, our country and our entire planet. The full ramifications of this global pandemic have yet to be fully seen or understood, but I trust that we will get through this together. As always, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. 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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