Doh Ouattara was for Uber and Lyft from 2016 until mid-March of this year, when he began to worry about the pandemic. With three children under the age of 6 to provide for, he decided to apply for unemployment benefits.
But despite hundreds of calls to the New York State Department of Labor and two prominent state rulings that considered concert of the workers like him to be eligible employees to receive benefits, which has still not received any payment, and the time is running out.
Mr. Ouattara, who was trained as an accountant in the Ivory Coast before moving to the united States, could afford to pay only half of their income in April, and none this month. “My savings are almost gone — I’ve used them for food, basic needs,” he said in an interview. “You’re doing very, very stressful.”
On Monday, Mr. Ouattara and three other Uber and Lyft drivers, along with a support group called the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, filed a complaint in federal court against the governor. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state Labor Department, saying the state illegally will not pay benefits to drivers in a timely manner.
The action comes at a time in which the drivers have been increasingly vocal in demanding the protections granted to employees, states such as New York and California, have granted to varying degrees, even the companies still maintain that the drivers are contractors.
The lawsuit says that drivers must wait months to receive unemployment benefits, if they receive them at all, in comparison with the two to three weeks of the state has said it is typical for the other workers. The plaintiffs are seeking a court order requiring the state to immediately pay its benefits and the benefits of the other drivers to whom they are due.
“The topic of Uber driver status of employment has been settled for more than a year by the state of its own decision,” said Zubin Soleimany, lawyer of the taxi workers group. “But it has not been able to provide benefits to people when they need it. It has been a disaster for these kids.”
Jack Sterne, a spokesman of the administration of governor andrew Cuomo, said, “During this pandemic emergency, who have been moving heaven and earth for each unemployed New Yorker its benefits as soon as possible — including Uber and Lyft drivers, who are treated no different than any other worker.”
According to the lawsuit, a key problem is that the state has not forced companies such as Uber and Lyft to provide data on the income of the workers and the employers must normally supply. In the absence of such data, the lawsuit says that the state has the necessary drivers to complete a lengthy application process that involves more steps and procedures than other workers face to receive unemployment benefits.
Josh Gold, a spokesman for Uber, said the company had provided the state with the income data that had been requested, but refused to say whether the data would be sufficient to calculate the unemployment benefits as soon as possible. The company said in April that it had agreed to comply with a state request for income data, but has not yet done so.
Lyft said the company was working with the state to provide access to the earnings data. “The special interests behind this lawsuit are not interested in what is best for the drivers, since the filing of this lawsuit will do nothing to help them to get help quickly,” said Julie Wood, a Lyft spokesperson.
Under the federal rules, only those who do not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits are supposed to receive the pandemic of assistance. But despite the fact that New York and California consider many drivers to be employees eligible for traditional benefits, states are helping drivers to get the pandemic of assistance, arguing that it is often the fastest way to get financial support.
Lyft, said that the pandemic of the assistance was a better treatment on the part of many pilots of the time, because the minimum payment under this program was higher than the minimum of the unemployment benefit.
But full-time drivers, the pandemic of assistance can be a weak substitute of the traditional unemployment benefits. The complaint calculates that Mr. Ouattara, the benefit in virtue of the pandemic, the assistance program would be less than $250 per week, compared with $504 that was to receive the unemployment benefit.
The difference arises due to the pandemic, the assistance is based on income net of the expenses such as gas and maintenance, while unemployment benefits are based on gross income, or about $26,000 compared to around $55,500 for Mr. Ouattara in 2019. Other drivers face similar disparities, according to the complaint.
Mr Ouattara said he had received a notice from the state this month, indicating that it had no record of profits to he Uber or Lyft. After that he sent the state of his documentation, he said, urged him to apply for a pandemic of assistance. He did so, but continues to pursue the traditional unemployment benefits as well. A second plaintiff in the case received a notice last week saying that it was approved by the global pandemic of assistance, but he continues to press on the conventional unemployment benefits.
Other drivers who think that they are the employees have sought traditional unemployment benefits in place of the pandemic, the assistance, but have found problems similar to those of Mr. Ouattara and his co-plaintiffs.
Carole Vigne, a lawyer for the nonprofit Legal Assistance on the Job, said that she had represented to Uber and Lyft drivers during the pandemic who received traditional unemployment benefits in California in about six weeks. But she said some of her customers were not still waiting for the benefits that apply to more than two months ago, and who had been sent to the pandemic support program with no explanation, despite the intention of applying for the traditional benefits.
Crystal Page, a spokeswoman for the California labor agency, said in an email, “There are a number of different situations that apply to ALL claims for benefits which could determine the speed with which a claim can get processed and paid if the individual is eligible.”
The New York lawsuit, brought with the help of the non-profit group of Legal Services of new york, cites two decisions of the state who are the drivers eligible for unemployment benefits. The first was a 2018 judgment of the state unemployment insurance appeals board, the final authority on questions of eligibility in the executive power, which found that the three drivers of Uber and all “similarly situated” drivers were eligible for benefits.
The second was a failure of Postmates, an app-based service delivery, which found the company’s workers to be employees for purposes of unemployment benefits. The ruling does not apply to Uber and Lyft directly, but strongly suggests employee status to their drivers due to the similarity of their business models to Postmates’.
The demand by the Lord Soleimany the group argues that by failing to pay drivers their unemployment benefits in a timely manner, the state is violating the “because” of the provisions of the federal Social Security Act, which requires states to guarantee the payment of the totality of the benefits “as quickly as is administratively feasible.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the state is violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution of the united states, usually the payment of employees that are not drivers of its profits in a two to three per calendar week, but take months to pay for the app-based drivers.