Hello to all. As we approach the end of this historic and terrible year, it feels like time is only accelerating. November flew by, and as we prepare for the upcoming holiday season, we need to face a harsh reality: the COVID-19 pandemic is going to get worse before it gets any better.

As I write this, the numbers throughout New York are getting worse by the day, and it seems as though we truly are in the midst of the feared second wave. Schools have been closed again and gone fully remote. Bars, restaurants, and gyms are required to close by 10:00pm, and it’s likely that by the time you’re reading this, more restrictions will have been enacted to curb the spread of this pandemic and ensure that our healthcare systems are not overwhelmed.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I need to once again express how important it is for our Covered Drivers to take advantage of the free telemedicine benefit they are entitled to. Cases are rising rapidly, the weather is getting colder, and other seasonal illnesses such as the flu will be spreading, too. Telemedicine will play a big role in ensuring that you and your family can quickly address non-emergency conditions without the risk of exposing yourself to COVID-19 or other illnesses at a doctor’s office.

This service is available to you 24/7 in over 150 languages. I urge everyone to visit www.driversbenefits.org to sign up and be able to use this service.

Telemedicine will likely be the future for the medical field, and even the workers’ compensation industry. From January through September 2020, new registrations for our telemedicine benefit have increased by 118%, compared to the average monthly new registrations for 2018-19 combined. The number of consultations that drivers have had with doctors has also exploded this year. When we compared the average monthly consultations in 2020 as of September, to the average for 2018-2019, we saw that the average monthly consultations grew by an astounding 515%. Don’t wait any longer to start using this benefit!

The same goes for flu shots! Drivers Benefits is providing flu shot vouchers through December 31, so that you can get a free flu shot at any Rite Aid. A surge of flu cases in the city could quickly overwhelm our healthcare system as they battle the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Don’t put off getting your flu shot any longer!

Now, I will move onto the big news that November brought. As many of you have likely heard, California’s voters resoundingly voted to approve Prop 22, which means that Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart’s workers will remain classified as independent contractors rather than employees. The companies had spent $200 million on this ballot initiative, the most in California’s history. This unprecedented move will certainly have ripple effects throughout the country and will influence how other states address the gig economy issue.

Eyes now turn to New York, where at the beginning of 2020, it seemed that the State legislature was poised to pass some type of legislation that would address this issue. State Senator Diane Savino has already stated that she plans on introducing a bill in January that will “focus on providing the flexibility of the gig economy while creating the protection we all know workers need.”

This description makes it sound similar to a bill she introduced in 2019 that would have created a new “third” classification called “dependent worker,” and would include some protections. Since then, it appears that Governor Cuomo has more or less sat back in order to watch what happened in California and has likely seen that the ABC test is not the best way to go forward. This issue will almost certainly be at the forefront of Albany’s legislative agenda for 2021 and will affect the vast majority of the black car industry. It’s certainly something we will be monitoring in the months to come.

Last month, I wrote about the new seatbelt law that has been in effect since Nov. 1. The law ultimately requires all passengers over the age of 16 to wear seatbelts, regardless of whether they are sitting in the front or back of the vehicle. The law also allows police officers to pull you over, solely upon the observation of a passenger being unbuckled.

When I wrote about this law last month, it was understood by many that in the event of a violation, only the unbuckled passenger would be on the hook for a fine. However, multiple news outlets have reported that drivers could possibly be on the hook, too. Due to all the confusion regarding this law, it doesn’t appear likely that there will be strong enforcement initially, until further clarification is issued by the State or the TLC. However, until there is clarity, you should certainly ensure that your passengers are buckled up during rides.

As I wrap up, I want to let you know that the excitement is building at The Black Car Fund as we prepare to announce a suite of new free benefits for our Covered Drivers. Please stay connected with us on social media to be the first to learn about these new benefits when they are announced. We are active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and our handle across these platforms is @nybcf.

This holiday season will be like none other we have ever experienced, unless you happen to have lived through the Spanish Flu in 1918. It’s hard to accept that traveling, seeing family and friends, and celebrating together is not a great idea and should be avoided.

This has been a long year and I know everyone is longing for the temporary reprieve from the demands of everyday life that the holidays offer. However, the better we are at working together to fight off this pandemic, the sooner it will begin to improve. I wish you all a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season and I look forward to talking again in 2021! Until next year!

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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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