Uber, Lyft drivers sue Cuomo over unemployment benefits

Some drivers have still not received their unemployment insurance, despite filing for the benefits in March

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A handful of Uber and Lyft drivers have sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York state Department of Labor, as well as its head, claiming the state is making them wait months rather than weeks to learn whether drivers are receiving unemployment benefits during the novel coronavirus pandemic, court papers state.

Four Lyft and Uber drivers and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance say the delay, “is devastating to thousands of drivers and their families, the overwhelming majority of whom are immigrants," according to the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in New York.

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“Since New York City began shutting down in mid-March in response to the spread of the COVID-19, professional drivers have found themselves, along with much of the workforce, largely unemployed as ridership evaporated,” states the suit, which was shared online by Gothamist. “Unable to make a living with almost all of New York staying home, Individual Plaintiffs found themselves with a lack of work, and applied for UI.”

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But some of those “app-based drivers” had still not received their unemployment insurance as of Monday – despite filing for the benefits in March, the lawsuit states.

A driver displaying Lyft and Uber stickers on his front windshield drops off a customer in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

“The DOL has continued to treat app-based drivers’ applications for benefits as though they are independent contractors, placing the burden on drivers to prove their earnings and employment status,” the complaint states. “As the DOL has not required app-based car service companies to supply their earnings data, drivers’ benefit rates cannot be determined, delaying the delivery of benefits to drivers by months.”

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But Jack Sterne, a spokesman for Cuomo, said some Uber and Lyft drivers have already received benefits.

“During this pandemic emergency, we have 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," he said.

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The NYTWA surveyed more than 800 people and found that, as of May 12, 55.2 percent of respondents “said they were close to not having enough money for groceries.” Twenty-six percent said they were already at the point where they couldn’t afford groceries, court papers show.

At least 51 NYS Taxi and Limousine Commission drivers have died of COVID-19-related illnesses as of May 14.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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