The lawsuit, filed directly against Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Department of Labor, concerns several drivers who decided to apply for New York unemployment benefits after the pandemic decimated their rider bases, and who have yet to see any unemployment money after months of shutdown.
The lawsuit asks for those drivers to be paid their benefits immediately.
The issue goes back to the problem with “gig economy” apps like Uber, which still classify their workers as contractors rather than full employees. That thrusts many workers into a gray area for unemployment benefits, as they work on a case-by-case basis and don’t have decided hours or normal documentation.
The problem isn’t confined to New York, as millions across the country have found themselves out of work. Drivers are feeling the hurt as their revenues decline when people stay indoors, and they lack the benefits that regular employees have.
The New York lawsuit says Uber drivers, without the documentation of hours and work done that other employees have, instead have to spend much more time filling out forms and it can take much longer for them to get paid.
The lawsuit is brought with the assistance of the nonprofit group Legal Services NYC, and has cited two instances it’s found on drivers being eligible for unemployment benefits.
The first is a 2018 ruling in which the state’s unemployment board found that three Uber drivers in a case from that time were deserving of unemployment benefits. And the second was a case in which Postmates drivers were found to be eligible for unemployment benefits, which implied that other companies like Uber and Lyft with similar business models applied, too.
Jack Sterne, a spokesperson for Cuomo’s office, said the state has been “moving heaven and earth to get every single unemployed New Yorker their benefits as quickly as possible — including Uber and Lyft drivers, who are treated no different than any other worker,” the New York Times reports.
The report quotes one driver, Doh Ouattara, who says he’s almost out of savings and has been waiting since mid-March for unemployment money, having made hundreds of calls to the state to rectify the problem.